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Holiday charter bus service for college students thrives

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 11:39 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Gina Cappa, 19, of Doylestown, left, and Veronica Parkinson, 18, of Springfield, both freshmen at the University of Pittsburgh, carry their bags as they head to a coach bus outside of the William Pitt Union on Tuesday to travel home for the holidays Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Michael Kister, 18, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, carries his bag as he heads to a coach bus outside of the William Pitt Union on Tuesday to travel home to Montgomery County, Maryland for the holidays.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Alexis Henry, 19, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, heads to a coach bus outside of the William Pitt Union on Tuesday to travel home to Harrisburg for the holidays.

Maia Krivoruk waited two hours in a bus shelter at the University of Pittsburgh as freezing rain fell on Tuesday afternoon.

“Oh, my God,” she yelled at about 2 p.m., when she found out her wait hadn't been in vain.

The freshman, 18, said she bought a ticket for a 4:15 p.m. ride home using Pitt's charter service, Buses Home for the Holidays, but she had been waiting on standby since noon, hoping to get on the 2 p.m. bus to New York City so she could arrive home in northern New Jersey sooner.

Several Pennsylvania colleges, including Pitt, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Clarion University, offer holiday charter buses to regional destinations for their students. The post-recession economy, rising cost of gas and decline in the number of young people who own cars have contributed to an increase in demand for charter and commercial bus service during the holidays, transportation experts said.

When Pitt started its charter service in November 1994, 250 students rode buses to eight towns, Pitt spokesman John Fedele said.

This week, about 2,000 Pitt students are riding Buses Home for the Holidays to 12 locations — seven Pennsylvania towns, three cities in New York state, Washington, D.C., and Maryland — through service contracted with Mt. Nebo-based Lenzner Coach Lines, which is owned by Paramus, N.J.-based Coach USA.

Discount bus operator Megabus, whose ridership this winter holiday season is expected to be up 20 percent over last year's, is picking up a lot of the student rider slack, said Mike Alvich, spokesman for Paramus, N.J.-based Megabus, also owned by Coach.

Of Megabus' 13 hubs nationwide, the Pittsburgh stop at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, is in the top five, he said.

With its ticket prices as low as $1, free Wi-Fi, direct routes and free baggage checking for 50 pounds of luggage per passenger, Megabus has built a large clientele among young riders since the company's founding in 2006, Alvich said.

Student travelers cite the convenience and price of bus transportation compared with airline tickets as fueling their demand during the holidays.

The average national price for a round-trip, domestic airline ticket this Thanksgiving season is $415, up nearly 7 percent from last year, said Travelocity senior editor Courtney Scott.

The average price for airline travel from Pittsburgh is $421, a 12.8 percent increase over 2012. Pitt's Home for the Holidays roundtrip buses for Thanksgiving range from $85 to $130.

Pitt freshman Katie Merritt, 18, took a Pitt charter bus home to Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday.

“Just because there is no other mode of transportation for me to get home. Greyhound takes 11 hours. Megabus doesn't go to Rochester (from here). It's expensive to fly,” she said.

This Thanksgiving, Butler Motor Transit, also owned by Coach, is providing one bus each between IUP's Punxsutawney campus and several in-state towns, and between Clarion University and Philadelphia, said Regina Rihn, sales manager.

The IUP Student Cooperative Association chartered five buses, all of which were sold out, for student travel from the Indiana Township campus to four Pennsylvania towns last week through Johnstown-based Lodestar Bus Lines & Tours Inc., said Sam Barker, IUP's director of program services.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662.

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