With a four-day weekend coming up in March, students could potentially benefit from a new transportation company coming to Binghamton this week.
FlixBus is a German-based transportation company in Europe that expanded to the United States in 2018, and it will soon start offering routes between Binghamton and New York City, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Starting on Feb. 14, tickets from Binghamton to Syracuse will cost $4.99, while tickets from Binghamton to New York City and Rochester will be sold at $9.99 for the next few months. Although each ticket has an additional $2 service fee, this pricing is still about three or four times less than FlixBus’ competitors. This will likely change after the promotional pricing season is over, according to Joanna Patterson, head of business development for FlixBus.
“When we launch new markets we get excited about offering promotional pricing because we want to convince as many people as possible to try the bus for the first time — so that’s where the $4.99 comes from,” Patterson said. “As we look beyond the road, what we’ll have is sort of what is akin to what you’ll see in an airline industry … so we want it to be affordable overall but we slide the scale based on how much flexibility you have.”
On its website, FlixBus brands itself as being tech-savvy and sustainable. Currently, the company partners with smaller and regional bus companies that operate in the area and provide buses and drivers, while FlixBus manages the marketing and ticketing services. According to Patterson, their business model is not concerned with taking away customers from established companies like Greyhound and Coach USA, instead aiming to introduce new consumers to the bus market.
“What’s been really cool is looking at our result on the West Coast and over 60 percent of our customers had never or rarely used an inner-city bus before and only 13 percent had used Greyhound,” Patterson said. “So, although we do end up taking passengers sometimes, what’s much more exciting and attractive to us is drilling the market and convincing people who might not have the best idea of what inner-city bus travel [is] to try renting a bus for the first time.”
The introduction of new passengers is part of the company’s model of sustainability, along with unique options in its ticketing services, according to Albert Aydin, public relations manager for FlixBus. When purchasing a ticket, the buyer can choose to give an additional donation of 1 percent to 3 percent of their ticket to the National Forest Foundation (NFF), a nonprofit organization determined to conserve and engage public interest in forests as an attempt to offset the carbon footprint of humans.
“We also understand that bus travel is not 100 percent [carbon dioxide] neutral,” Aydin wrote in an email. “To counter this, we offer passengers the option to add ‘CO2 Compensation’ to their trip, thereby making a voluntary environmental contribution when completing your booking.”
FlixBus also became interested in introducing electric buses into the market after it launched its first trial in San Francisco, according to Patterson.
“We are and we do want to be on the cutting edge for trialing more energy-efficient buses so we have trialed some electric buses in Europe and we recently did a trial down in California,” Patterson said. “So we aren’t ready to roll electric buses on the fleet, but we do want to be the first ones there when that technology is ready.”
Although FlixBus does not offer a student discount, students are one of the company’s biggest demographics, according to Patterson. Kira Hawes, a frequent bus traveler to Syracuse and a sophomore majoring in environmental studies, said the more environmentally friendly option is intriguing.
“I use buses a lot to commute to Syracuse and I think having another option, especially a more environmentally friendly one, beside the traditional services is great,” Hawes said. “I’ve actually traveled with FlixBus in Europe and had a pretty positive experience. In terms of the environmental ethics, I believe that I vote with my dollars, especially since I have the financial flexibility to do so. I’d be happy to pay more for a service I’d already be using to support an environmental organization.”
With another bus company in the mix, Hawes hopes that FlixBus will offset some of the competition.
“Having another bus company that gives students more options for travel times and options is needed,” Hawes said. “I’ve mainly traveled with Greyhound before and sometimes the buses get so full some people don’t get a seat and have to wait till a later time.”
Theo Watson, another frequent bus traveler and a sophomore double-majoring in English and history, said he also is interested in choosing a transportation option that is environmentally friendly, but is hesitant about FlixBus’ future pricing and reach.
“I don’t think that they’re really going to make an impact unless they find a way to provide quality service for a lower price,” Watson said. “Also, Coach USA and Greyhound have a wider reach than just Syracuse, Buffalo and New York City, so they’re already coming in with a reduced consumer base. Unless their tickets are prohibitively expensive [and] if they really are more environmentally friendly, I would absolutely switch over.”
According to Patterson, FlixBus is looking to expand to other smaller cities within New York state in the upcoming years, such as Ithaca.
“We would like to expand to other places as well,” Patterson said. “Soon afterward we are going to connect to Ithaca and Binghamton will be on that line as well. Big plans are set for expanding within New York [state] and across the country.”