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Latest must-have for East Coast bus routes is Wi-Fi

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Latest must-have for East Coast bus routes is Wi-Fi

BY RONG XIAOQING

DAILY NEWS

June 9th 2008

 

[float=right]amd_jay-mai.jpg

Keh for News

Jay Mai, 21, an employee of Eastern Travel,

tests out the smooth-running Wi-Fi

connection on a packed bus to Washington.

[/float]Lee Levine used to read books when he rode buses between the city and Washington, but that feels like a long time ago.

 

The 49-year-old writer and college consultant still makes the commute regularly, though his home is now in D.C.

 

Another aspect about the trip has changed, too: Instead of turning pages, he boots up his Macbook and gets four-anda-half hours of productivity in, thanks to wireless Internet access now available on the bus.

 

"I wrote, I did financial aid and housing for students going to college, all online," Levine said as he got off a bus in Tribeca recently. "I use these buses three times a month, so it's very crucial for me. It's like my rolling desk."

 

Where Wi-Fi was once a novelty aboard buses, it's becoming a must-have for the companies that service New York and major East Coast cities.

 

Greyhound, which lost market share to upstart Chinatown companies during the 1990s price wars, is now among the leaders in Wi-Fi bus travel.

 

Earlier this year, Greyhound launched BoltBus, which offers one-way fares of $25 to D.C. and $20 to Boston, with at least one ticket sold for just $1 on each bus. Chinatown bus companies are not moved by the $1 promotion.

 

[float=right]amd_boltbus.jpg

Greyhound's BoltBus has low fares and

Wi-Fi.

[/float]"Nobody will last long on that price," said Jimmy Cheng, chairman of the steering committee of the Chinatown Bus Association. He noted that regular fares offered by his group's members are about $5 cheaper than BoltBus.

 

But the Chinatown bus companies can't afford to ignore the WiFi service offered by competitors. Not only does BoltBus offer free Wi-Fi, but MegaBus, a subsidiary of Coach USA, recently launched its East Coast routes with similar discount promotions as well as Wi-Fi service.

 

The Chinatown buses are following suit. Eastern Travel of Chinatown, which focuses on the Washington route, just finished installing Wi-Fi devices on all of its 12 buses last month. And now most of the major Chinatown companies that cover the Washington and Boston routes are considering doing so, according to Cheng.

 

"Seventy percent of our passengers book tickets online, so we realize that Internet must be very important to them," he said. "We'll have all the services Greyhound has and ours will be better."

 

They'll be joining an increasingly crowded field. DC2NY, a company founded last July by a former Marriott exec offering bus service to Washington for $25 one way, was first with Wi-Fi on that route.

 

It's such a popular offer that the company estimates 75% of its passengers board with laptops in hand.

 

"There is a generation that's growing up with Wi-Fi access virtually wherever they go," said Walter Gill, DC2NY's marketing director. "I don't think we'd have the ridership that we have if we didn't have Wi-Fi."

 

For companies fighting to keep fares low, Wi-Fi's costs hurt.

 

Eastern Travel planned to install a TV and wireless satellite system on every bus to get a better signal, but it would have cost $5,000 per bus. It ended up with a satellite device on one bus and cellular routers costing $1,500 each for the rest of its vehicles.

 

"The satellite is too costly. If we raise the fare to get the investment back, we'll lose the market to our competitors," said co-owner David Wang.

 

To Vamoose, a Brooklyn company, it isn't the cost for Wi-Fi that's an obstacle, but the price of installing electrical outlets. During a defunct New York-to-Boston route, Vamoose officials found customers demanded power soon after logging on.

 

"We won't install Wi-Fi without outlets," said Sol Wollner, general manager of the company. "When we tried that before, passengers expected a fully rounded service. And then their laptops ran out of battery. They got frustrated."

 

The outlets cost up to $10,000 per bus, and so far, only BoltBus has them.

 

"It's too costly. It would be a big investment," Wollner said.

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Wi Fi is something alot of these companies in competition or starting new service are starting to bring and its good. Man, this really is going to be an interesting summer.

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It would be nice if MTA had that too, so I could drop this damn Sprint Card. But I better keep dreaming on that one.

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It would be nice if MTA had that too, so I could drop this damn Sprint Card. But I better keep dreaming on that one.

Yeah, ain't happening in the near future. It would be a nice touch on express buses.....

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