New York-D.C. Discount Bus Service Puts Stop in Rockville
European company takes on competitors with $5 introductory fare
The East Coast launch for FlixBus included a stop in the county.
These days, $5 can purchase a couple gallons of gas, a sandwich or a cup of coffee, if you forgo the whipped cream.
As of last week, it can also get county residents from Rockville to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., or New York City.
German company FlixBus recently launched on the East Coast, its lime-and-orange transit vehicles now traveling to 59 destinations across the country for as little as $4.99. The group focuses on digitalizing the bus industry through e-ticketing, free Wi-Fi and its own app, while working with regional partners to operate the fleet of buses.
FlixBus was founded in 2013 by entrepreneurs Jochen Engert, Daniel Krauss and André Schwämmlein following the deregulation of the German bus market, and within two years the company had expanded service to eight more countries. Buses now travel to more than 2,000 destinations in 29 countries, and FlixBus has served upwards of 100 million customers.
The company debuted in the United States in May 2018, beginning with operations along the West Coast and a headquarters in Los Angeles, expanding to the East Coast a year after its arrival.
“Our business model has revolutionized the way people view – and utilize – buses in Europe, and we are excited to offer this fresh take on bus travel to people in the United States,” Schwämmlein said following the May 2018 debut. “We harness technology to create a better experience for travelers.”
The Rockville stop is at 622 Hungerford Drive in a parking lot next to a U.S. Post Office. Buses travel from Rockville to a pair of stops in New York City, one in Baltimore and another in the District. Customers can take buses from those locations, along with Richmond, Virginia, to the Rockville stop.
All trips involving the Rockville stop are currently $4.99, except for Richmond, which is $9.98. There is also a $2 fee for online reservations. Cancellations within 30 days also incur charges. There is one return trip each day from Rockville.
The $4.99 tickets are meant to promote the service and will not last, though prices will remain affordable after the promotion, FlixBus Head of Business Develpoment Joanna Patterson said.
FlixBus does not own any of the buses in its fleet, outsourcing that portion of the operation to local providers. This setup helps small to midlevel operators to employ their assets for five to seven days a week with limited overhead costs and lets FlixBus to save money while focusing on areas such as marketing, customer service and network planning.
“It allows all of us to keep costs relatively low while maintaining the quality of our business core,” Patterson said.
The FlixBus route map attempts to provide access to its core regions at as many locations as possible, Patterson said. The company’s planning team evaluates population and transit options to glean the best places to plant stops, and Rockville showed up as a solid link between New York City, Baltimore and the District.
FlixBus plans to add a stop in Bethesda along with a few more in the area as part of the network, Patterson said. The county is somewhat bereft of long-distance bus coverage, as Megabus, which boasts tickets as low as $1, has only two stops in the state (Baltimore and Annapolis). Greyhound has more than 40 stops in Maryland, though just one in the county (Silver Spring).
New York-based Vamoose Bus has a pickup location in Bethesda.
Patterson noted Megabus and Greyhound are sizable players in the industry, but the competition for FlixBus is more about perception than it is fellow entities. More than 60% of customers on the West Coast hadn’t used a long-distance bus before.
“It’s how do we get people that are getting in their car and driving long distances, or perhaps flying short distances, and convince them that it makes sense to take a bus,” Patterson said.
Charlie Wright can be reached at email@example.com