Greyhound takes discount route Bus line targets short-trip riders

August 21, 1993|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

Move over, Southwest. The Dog's in the race.

Starting next week, Greyhound Lines Inc. will issue preferred-passenger cards entitling customers to 5 percent discounts on standard fares when traveling from Baltimore and eight other cities.

In addition, the nation's largest bus line for the first time will accept reservations that assure passengers a seat. And it will offer cardholders 10 percent discounts on food and money-transfer services at Greyhound stations.

"We're going after the same short-trip passengers that Southwest and other airlines want," said Bill Kula, a spokesman for the Dallas-based company. "This will make us even more competitive."

Greyhound's best one-way fare to Cleveland -- $43.60 -- can't compete with the rock-bottom $19 fare announced this week by Southwest and matched by Continental Airlines. Southwest plans to begin service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport Sept. 15.

But that's an anomaly, Mr. Kula said. For passengers who don't mind a longer ride, Greyhound typically offers fares that are better than Southwest's. The average ticket price nationwide is $36, with an average trip length of 390 miles, he said.

Dubbed "Easy Riders," the program is Greyhound's version of the airlines' popular frequent-flyer program that encourages /^ customer loyalty. Unlike the airlines, Greyhound is offering no added incentive for the number of miles traveled.

The program will be offered until July 30, 1994, in Boston; Hartford, Conn.; Philadelphia; Washington; and four cities in New York: Albany, Buffalo, New York City and Syracuse. Baltimore is the 26th-largest market for the company, which served 16 million passengers last year, Mr. Kula said.

"We'll likely roll the program out nationwide next summer," he said.

Greyhound also anticipates implementing a multitier fare structure, similar to that used by airlines, that is linked to time of travel and how far in advance a trip is booked. Currently, the bus line offers a seven-day advance purchase ticket at a 35 percent discount.

Of the major, publicly traded transportation companies, Southwest and Greyhound were the only ones last year to make a profit, Mr. Kula said.

Last year, he said, Greyhound earned $10.9 million profit on revenues of $680 million.

As the company continues to trim costs, the new reservation system will provide a better way to predict the number of buses it needs, Mr. Kula said.

In recent years, Greyhound has been beset by labor and financial problems. A bitter strike by drivers that began in early 1990 formally ended last spring with a six-year contract.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 1990, emerging from that in October 1991.

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