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Monday, July 29, 2013

Bandwidth vs. Network = What Affects Wi-Fi More on Buses?

While working at BoltBus I learned quite a bit about wi-fi boxes and electrical inverters, considering the fact that I repaired or replaced at least one of each on a daily basis.  Each one of our drivers and dispatchers were trained on the systems, particularly on how to reset the wi-fi boxes.  But there's only so much a driver can do when you go up to him or her enroute mentioning that the Internet is out.  After all, their priority is to safely guide you down the road to your destination, first and foremost.  The systems are relatively stable, but have parts that may or may not shift while en-route, similar to the airline announcements about your baggage in the overhead compartments. 

All that aside though, here's an analysis of the Wi-Fi bandwidth and network:

The Bandwidth

As mentioned in my previous post, bandwidth is precious and you can never have enough of it.  When you have a fixed supply and high demand of the onboard internet, you're bound to have problems.  In my experience, the moment someone downloads a YouTube video, that's it.  For some odd reason, the wi-fi will just cut out as a safeguard against overburdening the system.  But other uses also trigger the same response, such as file sharing or a hefty email inbox.

The Network

With our technologically dependent world today, networks are everything.  The network your carrier uses can either make or break a trip, as the wireless signal is dependent on the carrier's wireless network.  So if the coverage isn't good, neither will the signal.  In addition, the bus is a metal machine housing another metal machine, which could very well result in wireless interference from time to time depending on where you are driving.

What do I believe matters more?  From my experience, you can have all the bandwidth in the world, but without the network to support it, the bandwidth is useless.  Than again, that's just me.

What do you think?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why the Wi-Fi on Your Bus Doesn't Work

This is the first in a three part series about Wi-Fi on intercity and commuter buses. 

Ever taken an intercity or commuter bus and have the Wi-Fi cut out on you?

Or how about this - the signal fades in and out and eventually shuts off.

And it happens almost all the time, if not all the time, right?  So what gives?

To understand the issue beyond the nuts and bolts though, we have to first look at where we are with technology usage, particularly when it comes to wi-fi.

In the past five years, wireless internet has become a near necessity on intercity bus services, especially in high density corridors in the Northeast, Midwest and California.  A recent study released by my good friends at DePaul University's Chaddick Institute mention that over a three year period from 2010 to 2013, onboard technology usage rose almost 10% on non-traditional curbside carriers (i.e. Megabus) and almost 30% on Greyhound Buses.  You can read their latest report here.

Have you noticed that your bus has become a bit more crowded than it used to be?  You're not only riding with budget friendly groups such as college students, seniors and lower income individuals, but with business travelers as well.  Another trend which has emerged over the same period of time (albeit a bit longer) is the ride of the super-commuter, or business travelers who commute weekly over long distances (a few hundred miles) to their workplace.  According to a study by NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Research, "Super commuting is on the rise among workers in the central commuting counties of ten of the
largest metropolitan labor forces in the nation, with the exceptions of Atlanta and Minneapolis."  The study also mentions that the average age of this "super-commuter" is only 29 years old, which means that they are more adaptable to the ever-evolving mobile lifestyle.  Their complete findings can be found here.

So let's take what we've learned so far:  younger professionals who seek connectivity to their work and networks are taking buses and using the wi-fi onboard.  In other words, more people who use more bandwidth = less to go around. 

Of course this isn't a bad thing - mobilizing the workplace in an environmentally conscious and low cost way.  That is until you try to surf the web on I-95.

Stay tuned for my next post on the Top 5 Issues with Onboard Wi-Fi

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Happened to the Chinatown Bus?

Earlier today, the FMSCA officially told Lucky Star to cease all passenger operations on their mainline corridor route from New York's Chinatown to Boston's South Station.  This is on the heels of Fung Wah's demise a few months ago.  With two of the largest (and arguably most dominant) Chinatown carriers out of the picture (at least for now - owner Edward Leung says he will fight the order), what does this mean for the entire industry segment, popularly known as the "Chinatown Buses?"  Or should we ask the more important question: how did we get here?

Low cost intercity bus services competing against Greyhound are not new, and predate the rise of Fung Wah's shuttle bus service in 1999 from Chinatown in New York to Chinatown in Boston.  The Hispanic operators in the Southwest have successfully carved out a large, thriving market segment transporting customers both across the border and within the United States.  Their model is predicated on the familiarity and comfort of Hispanic people riding with carriers that understand why they travel and speak their language.  The Chinatown Bus movement launched with similar purpose and context.  It's been well documented by many researchers and reporters before me, most notably Nicholas Klein from Rutgers, that Fung Wah started as a way for service workers in New York to visit their children going to school in Boston.  As many of us who've taken these buses since 1999, the clientele has expanded well beyond that original niche travel purpose to be inclusive of almost everyone who wanted to travel between major Northeastern cities cheap and efficiently.  After all, for $15 one way, why wouldn't you?

Which comes to the reason Lucky Star and Fung Wah got in trouble in the first place - price.  When you compete on the basis of price, it's a downward spiral that gets much bigger than you.  Yes you're making money and attracting volume in passenger traffic, but you ultimately sacrifice quality and long term sustainability and reliability.  The business model for both of these New York-Boston firms was to provide cheap, efficient service that was frequent enough to "fit" how people traveled.  They had departures almost every hour (if not every hour) and made their money filling up seats and adding "sections" to schedules where need be.  This is great for the customer, as it gives them many options to choose from.  But choice also serves as the model's downfall, as you spread your customer base onto several schedules that don't quite reach "full or close to full."  Less full buses mean less profit, and more pressure to drive down costs.  This was a problem that was tackled and solved by Megabus and their fare yield management process, and BoltBus and their scaled volume approach to scheduling.  I mention these two carriers in particular on these two issues because they were the first to successfully do each on a large scale.

And that's where the downhill spiral accelerates.  By exposing yourself to so much more risk by flooding the market with service, you have to look at your P&L to see where to cut the cost.  The first line comes from deferred maintenance - do these buses really need to rest and recover?  Unlike airplanes, that have methodical inspections and opportunities to service while on the ground between legs and overnight, these buses are thrown into the world of "ground and pound" operations.  Bus comes in, it goes back out in many cases.  Do the larger carriers such as Greyhound and Peter Pan do this too?  Of course, but the difference here is that Greyhound and Peter Pan have multiple redundant systems and processes in place for preventative maintenance.  While I cannot speak for what Fung Wah and Lucky Star had or have in regards to their programs, the faults and issues found on the buses say that their systems, at best, were not able to catch these problems.

The next line that's affected is labor.  Drivers and maintainers are the heart and soul of every bus operation, and must be treated as such.  Again, I cannot speak for Fung Wah or Lucky Star and their operating and employee quality of life processes.  What I can mention is the well documented fact that both operations had serious violations with both driver fatigue and driver fitness, particularly in the early 2000s.  This is aside from the fact that there was a time when certain drivers were caught with serious logbook issues, which ultimately affects safety because a driver can only drive 10 hours and work 15 consecutive hours on duty in any 24 hour period.  Even though every carrier has issues with all three aspects, it goes back to how you learn and take corrective action.  Most carriers have a dedicated safety and/or compliance person whose job is to track these problems and fix the issues.  These efforts tie into a training program that addresses these problems and how drivers should approach their job in relation to the rules. 

The key to everything I mentioned above are systems and infrastructure in place to pay for investments in safety and operations.  To accomplish this, you must charge prices appropriately.  Anyone who's taken BoltBus and Megabus over the past year has seen prices on the mainline corridor services, NY-BOS, NY-DC, NY-PHL rise quite a bit, especially during the peak travel periods of Friday and Sunday afternoons/evenings.  Although it's still a relative bargain to the next best alternative (Amtrak), these prices are what should be expected in what has become a mature market.  In other words, you literally get what you pay for, which is the trust in the brand, nothing else.  But as mentioned before, the higher costs go towards investments into people and infrastructure to keep the operation going.  They correctly identified that by stratifying prices, they are able to control both supply and demand, while maintaining their cost base.  Therefore, you can say that they compete on the basis of value instead of price.

So what's the lesson here you ask?  The Chinatown Buses, many of which are still in existence in various forms traveling between destinations on both coasts, are running with an unsustainable business model fueled by being the cheapest.  You'll get people coming to you, and you'll be in business for a while.  But eventually the wheels come off, sometimes literally, because of competition, shifting travel patterns and a recognition of what people see as good and bad.

Whether Lucky Star makes it out from their current position remains to be seen.  But if they reemerge, I hope they take my reasoning and put it to good use.  This is a very different world than when Fung Wah launched in 1999.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What to do with Atlantic City?

I have a very strong affinity and bond with Atlantic City, the resort town on the Jersey Shore known for its gaming options.  My family and I have visited since I was a child, and my passion for travel and transportation originated from those trips.

That said, Atlantic City is in trouble - and we all know it.  Look no further than Parx Casino in Philadelphia or Resorts World in New York.  With so many gaming options within a 200 mile radius of Atlantic City, there is an extremely saturated market in the Mid-Atlantic.  For the core casino demographic, seniors aged 62 and over, why would they drive 2-3 hours out of there way to gamble when there is a racino  only an hour from there house?  And how do you sell a city that many visitors aren't comfortable walking around in because of their perception of the local area?

The Atlantic City Alliance has done its part to help reshape the image of the city and to reinsert its relevance in the hearts and minds of people in surrounding metropolitan areas, as described in this article.  They were finally able to get all of the casino owners on the same page with the uniform goal of boosting the city's image.  Of course the answer involves presenting the city as a destination, but let's not kid ourselves to believe that this will be Las Vegas.  Too many have made that bet in the past with very little to show for it - do we need to mention the Pier Shops at Caesars or the Pinnacle debacle?

So what to do about Atlantic City?  Yes, it can be saved and no, there is room for growth.  Here's my top 3 suggestions for improving the state of Atlantic City as a destination (in reverse order):

3.  Don't Place All Your Eggs into the Internet Gaming Basket

"If you build it, they will come" - the famous line we quote everyday.  Yes, internet gaming will help boost bottom line profits and yes it will help to reverse the broken record recording that gaming revenue in Atlantic City is down XYZ percent.  But the phrase also holds true in other ways, as other states have and will petition for same.  The trend is going towards online gaming for younger generations, but that doesn't fill hotel rooms or increase bar tabs as much as physically attracting people into the city and getting them to come back.

2.  Ask Generation Y What They Do For Fun

For Atlantic City to survive, new blood has to be shown their way in - and no, I'm not talking about Wall Street bankers.  I'm talking about college students and recent graduates, the same people who generally work hard and play harder.  Almost every week I hear about some group of 20 somethings who had a wild time at Mixx or The Pool and how they can't wait to go back.  AC needs to find a way to keep them coming back more often - and not for gaming.  Entertainment and nightlife are what this generation is about and you have venues such as the House of Blues that provides them.  But you can't stop there - as they need to actively research and ASK THEM what they do for fun and what they want.  They are the most socially aware and internet savvy, so the marketing buzz alone pays for itself.  With a rich population only 60 minutes away from the city, it's a no-brainer.

1. Make Friends With PHL (the airport)

Huh?  Atlantic City has an airport - why do they need to build a relationship with PHL?  With only one regular scheduled tenant and one charter airline in check, ACY isn't in the best position to be the end all, be all catalyst for inbound tourism right now.  With the state of the economy and the city as they stand, out-of-region travelers (outside the Mid-Atlantic) do not see Atlantic City as a destination.  From the analysis above, it's clear that the drive-in market is what's eroding for Atlantic City, which traditionally has been their bread and butter.  By marketing themselves as part of the Greater Philadelphia region, as they are already work with the PHLCVB and GPTMC, they can obtain a greater share of the inbound traffic coming into Philadelphia and extending their visit by going to Atlantic City.  By working with US Airways, the hub carrier, and others on special vacation deals that feed people into PHL and packaging car rentals or shuttles, you create greater access for others to experience the city and tell their friends.  And all of this builds off of existing relationships and infrastructure, thereby decreasing marketing costs from not having to reinvest the wheel.  With the gains experienced, however incremental, is more than they would've had without those efforts.

Long term however, by running these features and driving traffic into AC via PHL, you can repackage the case for bringing other scheduled carriers into ACY.

What do you think?

Friday, May 17, 2013

We Are a Non-Committed Mobile Generation

An intriguing article published this week in the New York Times says that today's younger generation of "millennials" are opting less for car ownership, and more for alternative transport solutions.  Among the many reasons cited by a report published by the US PIRG include current economic conditions that make finding jobs for recent college grads difficult, and their inclination to live in more densely populated, transit-friendly urban areas.

What does this mean for the future of our country?  We should look at this trend as the start of a social process of developing more effective ways of mobilization - not just with transport itself, but with purpose of travel.  There will always be people who prefer cars, and we must not exclude them from the discussion.  This rising trend should send a signal that we can no longer treat car travel and public transport as two different arenas - they must be integrated with each other to provide seamless options for people to move as they please.

The sooner we establish that balance, the more effective our economy will be.  After all, mobilization is not just about people, it's about ideas, commerce, and ideology.  Transport is the key to our future both from a national and worldwide perspective.  It's time we do something about it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New Country = Make an Attempt at the Local Language

This past week I was fortunate enough to speak at the Pan American Differential Mobilities Conference in Montreal, Canada.  Along with my faculty adviser, Linda Forristal, we presented on Greyhound and its quest to reinvent itself and re-mobilize intercity travel in the process.

Upon arriving to Montreal late Thursday evening, an old travel lesson hit me while I was walking through the doors of the Le Meridien hotel:  Where's my French dictionary?  One of my go-to travel items when visiting a new country is some form of English-local language translation book or guide.  Unfortunately for me, I forgot to check it out of the library on my way out of LGA (I guess that midterm took more out of me than I thought).

Therefore, I was at a disadvantage.  I could not connect on a deeper level with the locals and had to remember how to bridge the gap of being a "foreigner."  These are things we often view from the other direction, passing judgment on others who are not from the US or even from our home region.  I could not partake in small talk about the latest art exhibit or with the poor showing by the Canadiens.

Lesson learned # 1 = Be aware of your surroundings and adapt.  AKA = learn a few local words, it'll help in the long run. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Renewed Purpose

It's been awhile since I last posted here. I didn't have much to discuss, nor did I have an active interest in sharing my ideas. Since then, my perspective and goals have changed dramatically.

I'm currently an undergraduate business student at Drexel University who spends the first half of his day in class, the second half with learning and thinking about travel and transportation, and the third launching a business in Philadelphia. The business, CoTo Travel, will streamline the travel and transportation process for parents and students visiting colleges. My new venture comes after a three year co-op internship as an Operations Assistant with this company and co-authoring a major study with a team at DePaul University led by Dr. Joe Schwieterman. You can read it here. I am very excited for the prospects ahead and thus have developed a renewed purpose for this blog.

I originally created Traveling on a Layover to share my ideas about travel with people who had an active interest in taking various modes of transport while traveling. Today, I'm redefining that purpose to include stories, insight, and knowledge on my business (CoTo Travel), my consulting in transportation, travel, and hospitality (Brian Antolin Consulting) and general topics on travel. Finally, I'm relaunching this blog for you, my readers. If there's something you're interested in learning more about or comments or suggestions, please feel free to ask. I believe that this forum is an open exchange of ideas and a way to develop new relationships based on intellectual curiosity and shared experiences. So to that - here's to new beginnings and wonderful journeys ahead!  


Monday, January 24, 2011

So what does the title mean?

I have been asked by a few people to explain what the title means.

At first glance, you begin realize the irony in the phrase, "Traveling on a layover." We utilize these terms individually to complement our status en-route to our destination, but usually not in this context.

That explanation provides us with this question: how can one travel on a layover?

Believe it or not, it's more common than you think, but not in the context of the two words individually.

When we are at an airport waiting to board a flight, what are we usually thinking about? The sunny beach we are traveling to in order to get away from the office? What about the nice warm dinner your mother will have waiting for you when you ring the doorbell? Or perhaps it's that long awaited promotion from the work you have done at the satellite office 5000 miles away overseas.

Does any of this sound familiar?

When we wait to depart to our destination, whether in an airport, bus station or car rental facility, our minds have already left ahead of our bodies. Is there scientific proof to back this up? If there is, I haven't found it yet. But think of rationale behind the idea. Waiting makes us restless (we are a restless society after all), and being restless results in a want (not need) to take our mind away from waiting. People do not want to wait, at least not in our fast paced society. The on demand lifestyle has consumed all of us to the point that relaxation, even at he most peaceful of places is not possible.

Case-in-point: the proliferation of wi-fi in airport terminals, train stations and on vehicles such as intercity motor coaches. People today do not wish to waste any idle moments of potential productivity.

Is this a bad thing? The retailers in the transportation hubs don't seem to think so. Neither does your boss. But that's for another post.

So the meaning of the title ultimately boils down to this: we as a society are in a constant state of travel. This fact defines how we travel, and the structures that dictate when, where, how and why you do so.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cleared For Takeoff.....Check!

Currently I am writing this with one goal in mind: not to fall asleep before finishing. Forgive me, it has been a long day.

I am often classified as a college student, because frankly the student loans prove I am. According to what people have told me, I am a business student who goes to school in the city of Brotherly Love. My work experience says that I have worked in finance and transportation. Most people in the industry (take your pick on which one I am referring to) will probably discount me from what I have to say, stating lack of practical experience. I agree, but my view is two-fold: a practioner learning the ropes of the business (as a college student), and a customer who fuels the corporate jets at night (consumer at large within one of the most coveted demographics found today).

The focus of this venture (and I call it a venture because I will shape this blog into an interactive learning experience for you and me) is the latter aspect of my professional experience: transportation.

As a uniquely disunited traveling culture, we place our emphasis on two things when we travel: what we paid and what we didn't get. Think about it, how many times did you click on the "lowest fare" for an airline seat, then double clicked on the icon saying "package value." Our culture has become accustomed to expecting the world and being disappointed. Most importantly, and the point I wish to address, in the midst of the excitement and disappointment, we overlook how we got from point A to point B. My goal is to help bring to you thoughts on how we travel, what we do when we travel, where we stop and why it matters to us. I will try to give you different views of these processes whenever possible, from both a customer and practitioner's point of view. There are always ways to improve, and the more recognition we have of the problems, the better we can become.

I will do my best to provide some insight based on my experiences and knowledge in both transportation and hospitality. In addition, I will provide a perspective on the arts, culture, dining and hospitality scenes of places you may or may not have heard of.

According to my VALS survey, I am an "Achiever" and an "Innovator." That means I will try to keep things lively and informative.