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100 years of intercity bus travel

100 years of intercity bus travel

Today, we commemorate motorcoach travel’s prominent place in our nation’s transportation network for the past century.

One hundred years ago, Carl Eric Wickman, a Swedish immigrant and drill operator laid-off from Minnesota's iron ore mines, began a modest bus service to take miners from Hibbing to nearby Alice, a town known for its saloons. He charged 15 cents a ride in a Hupmobile. A year later, Wickman joined forces with a similar service running between Hibbing and Duluth. In its first year, the Mesaba Transportation Company earned an $8,000 profit, and American intercity bus travel was born.

During the 1920s, Wickman's buses --with their sleek lines and grey paint-- become known as "greyhounds," and in 1929 the company officially became Greyhound Lines.

Photo of F.M.C.S.A. Administrator Anne Ferrro in front of 1914 Hupmobile
FMCSA Administrator Ferro and others in front of Eric Wickman's 1914 Hupmobile at 100th anniversary celebration.

The American passenger carrier industry has grown considerably since then. Today, motorcoach travel provides mobility and connectivity for millions of Americans and helps us meet our enormous energy and environmental challenges. The drivers operating these vehicles help ensure that motorcoach travel is a safe way for Americans to get where they need to go.

These buses and drivers do more than take people from Point A to Point B; they give Americans access to jobs and economic opportunity. They connect families. And in towns without air or rail service, they connect entire communities with the rest of the nation.

Bus rides have also become a significant part of our nation’s history.  More than 50 years ago, motorcoaches carried Freedom Riders into the Deep South to challenge segregation. During World War II, motorcoaches carried soldiers from coast-to-coast.  At one time or another, most of us have traveled on a motorcoach.

Photo of W.A.V.E.S. debarking a bus at the Naval Air Station in Banana River, Florida, 1944
WAVES pose after debarking a bus at the Naval Air Station in Banana River, Florida, 1944; official U.S. Navy photo, courtesy National Archives.

At the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), we work to ensure that every motorcoach trip is a safe one. With a team of trained inspectors and investigators nationwide, the FMCSA has significantly stepped-up its safety enforcement of buses and other commercial passenger carriers. In 2012, we conducted 33,684 inspections and put 880 drivers and 1,831 vehicles out of service due to safety violations. And since the release of our original Motorcoach Safety Action Plan, we have increased imminent hazard out-of-service orders --requiring a passenger carrier to immediately cease all transportation services-- from 0 in 2009 to 28 in 2012.

We've also given consumers the ability to make good safety decisions when planning their travel with our SaferBus app. SaferBus is a free tool that allows you to "Look Before You Book" by putting carrier safety information in the palm of your hand.

Photo of Delos Smith telling stories of his 48 states of bus travel
Legendary bus traveler Delos Smith telling stories about passing through all of the "Lower 48" by bus.

A century after an enterprising young immigrant gave folks a 15-cent ride to Alice, Minnesota, intercity bus transportation is firmly embedded in our nation’s transportation system. Over the past three years, the number of passenger trips has increased by nearly six percent, and in 2012 carriers provided nearly 640 million passenger trips totaling more than 75 billion passenger miles.

That's a long way from what Carl Eric Wickman had in mind when he fired up his Hupmobile in 1914, and I know the industry will continue to play a vital role in keeping Americans moving forward.

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