Iowa City-to-Chicago Bus Service Competition Heating Up

By Dave DeWitte, Reporter

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Burlington Trailways has revamped its thrice-daily Iowa City-Chicago bus service, reducing trip times and adding discount fare options in response to the competition from discounter Megabus.

The new service schedules will reduce travel times between the cities to four and a half hours or less. Burlington Trailways added “bucket pricing” options, which allow customers who book early online to receive one-way fares as low as $1, with prices graduating up to the full price of $28 weekdays and $30 weekends after three-fourths of the tickets for the departure are sold.

A $4 booking fee applies to all tickets purchased online, which can be printed out at home. Ticket purchases at the bus station counter are still at full price, but don’t require a booking fee.

Iowa City’s Burlington Trailways operator, Eugene Hibbs, said the changes were driven by increased competition, but Burlington Trailways offers better value than Megabus because customers can wait for arrivals in Iowa City’s comfortable and safe bus station instead of waiting outside.

”This is the best deal we’ve ever had by far,” Hibbs said.

Megabus added discount bus service in May 2010 between Des Moines, Iowa City and Chicago. The company grabbed attention with its $1 fare, part of a bucket pricing strategy that lets earliest-sold seats go cheaper.

Burlington Trailways has also added a suburban Chicago stop, Hibbs said something Megabus doesn’t offer that has appeal for passengers going to visit friends or family in the suburbs. Both bus lines previously had their Chicago terminals in the city’s downtown loop area, which offers public transit connections to the entire metro area.

Burlington Trailways offers three daily departures from Iowa City at 12:45 a.m., 10 a.m. and 2:55 p.m.

The 10 a.m. departure from Iowa City will become an express service with only two stops in Davenport and Naperville, Ill. It arrives at in downtown Chicago at 2:30.

The 12:45 a.m. bus to Chicago will have no stops, Hibbs said.

The trip times were reduced by removing stops in towns such as Mount Pleasant and Moline that didn’t generate as much ridership.

“Bussing has changed,” Hibbs said. “Traditional bussing went to every town and was a local service. Now, we’re really focusing on larger city pairs. It’s hard, because you don’t want to leave a town high and dry.”

One reason for the fare and schedule changes, Hibbs said, was to attract a new demographic of customers who’ve never considered taking the bus. He expects first-time passengers to be surprised by the amenities, which include reclining seats, Wi-Fi Internet service and in-trip movies.

Greyhound also plans to introduce express service between Iowa City and Chicago on Sept. 9, said Hibbs, who is also Greyhound’s Iowa City ticket agent.

Burlington Trailways operates at the Iowa City Bus Station, 170 E. Court Street.

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