Old dog’s new trick: Greyhound attracts millennials

As their lifestyles shift into the city, more young people are leaving the driving to the 100-year-old bus company.

By MSN Money staff Jun 10, 2014 5:25PM

This post comes from Brad Tuttle at partner site Money.


Money on MSN MoneyTen years ago, Greyhound used the occasion of its 90th anniversary to launch a campaign to woo younger customers. A gimmicky "spokesdog" named Friendly was unleashed as a strategy to reach out to college-age riders to take a second look at Greyhound, known primarily among consumers for its "grimly spartan, ill-maintained terminal facilities, road-worn vehicles and the general low-end milieu of bus-station culture," a 2004 "AdAge" story sumThe Greyhound logo shown across the side of a bus © Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Imagesmed up, all of which had "endowed [Greyhound] with a less-than-cool reputation among the younger set."


Friendly may not have made much impact on Greyhound ridership, but apparently a widespread shift to urban living, combined with decreased car ownership — especially among millennials — plus substantial changes over the years made by the company in terms of routes, passenger amenities, buses, and terminals seem to have put it on the right path.


About the time Friendly appeared in Greyhound ads, the company began restructuring its routes to better match up with the needs of the modern-day marketplace. Few travelers would even consider seriously long (coast-to-coast) bus rides, so instead of keeping the focus on being a national network, Greyhound put much more emphasis on better serving urban areas.


In particular, Greyhound positioned itself to be a convenient option for travelers heading in between two cities that are fairly close together — say, within 300 miles or so. At such a distance, one might also probably consider flying, renting a car or hopping a train. Compared to these options, the trusty old bus has some appeal because it's cheaper, quicker, more convenient, less of a hassle (no TSA checkpoints) or all of the above. It made much more sense for Greyhound to increase nonstop service from New York City to cities like Boston and Baltimore, and from Dallas to Austin and Houston, rather than keep offering abundant multi-stop (read: frustrating and seemingly endless) cross-country trips.


"We took miles driven between New York and Los Angeles and put them into New York to Boston, which we do every 45 minutes," David S. Leach, president and CEO of Dallas-based Greyhound, recently told the Dallas Morning News. "We continue to rationalize our miles, putting buses on routes that people want to ride."


Greyhound is a privately held operation, and it wouldn't give up all of its financials to the Morning News, but it did reveal one eye-opening stat: Its broadly expanded Express service, which tends to be used on nonstop city pairings like those mentioned above, produced $121 million in revenue in 2013, compared to just $2 million in 2011. Greyhound also said that in light of shifting demographics and living preferences, its "potential prospects" as customers could triple in the near future.


As Fast Company reported, the motivation for many of Greyhound's changes was the realization that more and more people — young people in particular — want to live in cities, and they like the idea of not owning cars. "Times change, [the] country changes. People are moving to big cities," Leach explained to Fast Company.


When Greyhound asked people what they wanted out of a city-to-city bus company, unsurprisingly, many indicated that they of course demanded the basics — including clean, on-time service. But they also wanted tech amenities to make the trip go by quicker, and perhaps even be productive. This translated into outlets for charging devices on buses, as well as Wi-Fi, which are increasingly standard on Greyhound buses.


Bus fares are cheap, too. This is undeniably a big part of the equation. Millennials need affordability at least as much as they need Wi-Fi. It's not unusual for a rider who has booked in advance to pay under $15 for a one-way journey of a couple hundred miles. As gas prices have spiked and remain high today, even people who own cars are apt to consider hopping Greyhound — or Megabus or another bus competitor — for a ride of four hours or less.


While the fares are cheap, Greyhound has taken many steps so that the overall "Greyhound experience" doesn't feel grungy and cheap. Beyond Wi-Fi and on-board outlets, Greyhound has refurbished three-quarters of its terminals over the past decade.


In some ways, Greyhound can thank the competition as the impetus for its transformation.


Increased competition among bus companies has not only served customers well, with lower fares, better amenities, and more convenient routes, it's arguable that the rise of Megabus and various "Chinatown shuttles" popular among younger travelers has helped reintroduce Greyhound to the college-aged set. Interestingly, a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter recently took a side-by-side look at Megabus and Greyhound Express on back-to-back rides between Cleveland and Columbus to compare the operations. Among her observations:


"Megabus offered a slightly better price and a younger clientele. Greyhound had better places to wait and more convenient travel times.

As for the rides themselves? They were mostly good:


"Both rides were comfortable, relatively on time, seemed safe, and were mostly clean (except for the bathrooms – you'll want to avoid these if at all possible).


Well, some things never change.


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67Comments
Jun 10, 2014 7:21PM
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with the price of airline tickets plus all the crap you have to go through at the airport a person would be better off traveling by bus or train
Jun 10, 2014 7:49PM
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Greetings,
     "they like the idea of not owning cars"  Hogwash!  More and more people can no longer afford to own a car. In 1971 I bought a new Chevy Vega for about $2,000.  I could buy gas for about 25 cents a gallon.  Our government's policies of living off of borrowed money makes them want inflation so they can pay off some of their debt with cheaper dollars.  And, they look us in the eye and say, "there is practically no inflation.  Trust us,we're here to help." Have a nice day.
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Millennials need to bus because Mommy and daddy wont always let them use the car.
Jun 10, 2014 8:26PM
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The only thing you don't save is time. Sounds like a good idea. The Greyhound Bus Revival may be a very good thing for travelers and the company. Those TSA people at airports squeezing my buns has gotten very old. How about squeezing those fat ugly peoples buns too with both hands. Perverts.
Jun 11, 2014 7:55AM
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Getting back to the affordable, Obama kept his promise of "change"' and it wasn't good for the average American, many haven't figured that out yet and may never.... they are the problem.  
Jun 11, 2014 6:59AM
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Airlines are a huge rip-off. Younger folks aren't willing to take the nickel and dime hit for everything, put up with all the airport hassles then get the bum rush treatment involved in airline travel. The greyhound is an alternative that hopefully gains more future acceptance. I personally leave a day or two early and drive. We use to go to Hawaii and Alaska on vacations but airport frisk lines, airline cattle car treatment and fees for everything  killed those holiday destinations. Why go on vacation to relax only to have the airline/airport experience piss you off and make you glad to get home?
Jun 11, 2014 5:59AM
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Don't know how t is now, but back in the 60's going cross country, it was almost like a party bus.
Jun 11, 2014 9:54AM
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Greyhound started in my old home town of Hibbing, Minnesota and always been proud of the company. It has survived through many ups and downs in the economy. And become an American heritage.
Jun 11, 2014 11:10AM
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If you can't finds a job, how the hell do you buy a car?
Jun 11, 2014 10:40AM
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I remember traveling the country on a Greyhound back in 1979. My dad bought me a 30 day pass for $99 bucks and I was able to go anywhere I wanted and stop when I wanted. It was great. Got to see all my family and find a little romance along the way. It was a life experience I'll never forget.
Jun 11, 2014 9:16AM
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What is this recurring theme of young people wanting to live in big cities and having no enthusiasm for car ownership.  Now, car ownership is expensive, but so is city living, with or without one.  Can anybody tell me why they think this way?
Jun 11, 2014 4:35AM
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Three years ago the dirty dog provided me with my trip from hell, 7 hours late, rude clerk, rude driver,  and dirty stations. Never again, as U.S. bus service is strictly 3rd world, I reside in Central America and bus service here is far and away better. One of my Swiss friends  says "it better than the U.S.", he  also understands that in the U.S. a car is an absolute necessity,  No Greyhound, never again!
Jun 10, 2014 8:00PM
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People can't afford to buy cars or pay airfare. Thanks obama
Jun 10, 2014 11:42PM
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Have these people been in a Greyhound terminal or ridden one of their buses?  The drivers are rude, the buses stink and only the homeless spend anytime in their terminals.
Jun 11, 2014 12:22PM
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It would not be as bad if some of the bus stations were not nasty dirty with shady people hanging around.  I was traveling by myself as a young single woman at the time and I felt extremely unsafe and nervous at a couple of them while waiting to change busses.
Jun 11, 2014 10:37AM
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Poverty for millenials is why they must ride Greyhound.

 

Thanks Obama!!   You young suckers got what you voted for...

Jun 11, 2014 11:04AM
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Yo might get lucky and be able to drive around the country with illegal immigrants!!! God knows Obama is shipping them everywhere! On average we had 6500 women and children come across our boarders and now since Obama has been advertising..yes advertising food stamps there we are on track to have 90,000 rush to our country!!! Go read for yourself people...this guy community organizer is ruining our country!!!
Jun 11, 2014 10:55AM
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Welcome to Obama's world!!!! Oh wait he uses our money to travel around with Michelle and the kids.
Next time think before yo vote idiots!!!
Jun 11, 2014 9:14AM
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They will have to kick the bad image of inter-city bus travel that it only carries two kinds of people: those running from trouble, and those running to it.  Watch your valuables!
Jun 11, 2014 12:48PM
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"Push the car? Get yo mama to push the car!"
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