May 4, 2005

Express service with luxury touches: Campus-to-campus bus hits its stride

Fred Rhoades
Joe Wilensky/Cornell News Service
Driver Fred Rhoades heads back to the door of the Campus-to-Campus bus after retrieving luggage for passengers outside the Cornell Club in New York City (6 E. 44th St.) April 21. After making the Cornell Club stop, the bus heads to the main entrance of Weill Cornell Medical College at 1300 York Ave.

Fred Rhoades has been driving buses -- all kinds of buses, from school and senior citizens' buses to charter coaches -- for more than 35 years.

But according to Rhoades, the Prevost motor coaches that run eight times a week on Cornell's Campus-to-Campus express charter service beat them all -- at least, based on comfort and passenger response from students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Five drivers, all employees of Caz Limo Inc. of Cazenovia, N.Y., drive the two buses that make the four-hour, nonstop trip from the Ithaca campus to the Cornell Club and Weill Cornell Medical Center (WCMC) in New York City. This is the second semester that the service (coordinated by Cornell Transportation Services) has been in full swing. The service was upgraded earlier this year by the purchase of the two new luxury buses, boasting wireless Internet connections, satellite radio, hot and cold running water and numerous other amenities.

"This bus is a very well-handling bus," Rhoades said, as he drove one of the Campus-to-Campus buses last month. He pointed out not only the 45-foot-long vehicle's many features, including the bewildering number of adjustments available to the driver's seat, but also the technology he has gotten adept at troubleshooting -- from the Internet and radio receivers to the laptop computer that keeps a constantly updated passenger manifest. He also can give newbie passengers a crash course in brewing their own coffee in the kitchenette or recharging a cell phone.

Caz Limo was selected for not only their drivers' experience but also their attention to detail and rider satisfaction, said David Lieb, communications manager for Cornell Transportation Services.

campus-to-campus bus
Joe Wilensky/Cornell News Service
The Campus-to-Campus bus, with Fred Rhoades at the wheel, approaches the Lincoln Tunnel near the end of its trip to New York City April 21. The service runs eight trips a week between the Ithaca campus and two Manhattan stops.

The service goes quite a way to make riders feel pampered. Pillows and blankets are available in the overhead bins, though they may be hardly necessary for use with the roomy leather seats that feature a flip-out leg rest and several reclining positions. Even the bathroom features hot and cold running water, and snacks and beverages are complimentary in the kitchenette throughout the trip.

The cost? The standard fare is $99 one way or $149 round trip. The companion fare (a spouse or significant other accompanying a passenger paying standard fare) is $75/$125, and the group rate (for four or more) is $75/$125 for each passenger. The service is not meant to compete directly with the Tompkins County Airport -- and, indeed, a Cornell connection is required to ride the bus. The travel time (which can be 4 1/2 hours in heavy traffic) is not too different from the total trip by air and airport bus. It is, of course, about twice the price of a comparable Short Line or Greyhound bus, although about two hours faster and more comfortable.

"We've gotten a really good response from the Cornell community," Lieb said. "Ridership is great for a startup [service], and it's building," with students making up about a fourth of the passengers.

Jack and Inger Gilbert, both Class of '49 alums, were on the bus April 21, heading for an overnight stay at the Cornell Club and then a rendezvous the next day with the Queen Mary 2 for a seven-week trip to England.

"We wanted to try this," Jack Gilbert said of the Campus-to-Campus bus, admitting that he doesn't enjoy flying. The amenities on the bus service were "very nice," the Gilberts said while taking in the view of the countryside flashing by.

The one thing the Gilberts were hoping for was that the bus service would continue into the summer so that they could catch a ride back to Ithaca when they return from England.

"We're holding our breath," Inger Gilbert said. If the bus won't be running in June, they plan to return via Greyhound or Short Line. (Lieb anticipates "there will be some degree of summer service," since surveys show that passengers want it.)

Geoff Gray, Hotel School '08, was also on the bus April 21 to meet his mother in New York City. The San Diego native said he chose the bus service for time reasons -- "it's really the fastest route besides flying," he said. He planned to spend most of the ride "relaxing, just listening to music, mostly de-stressing."

Sam Weeman, Johnson School '07, has taken the Campus-to-Campus bus about eight times so far, mostly to travel to New York City for interviews and to visit his girlfriend. He used to drive the route more often, but since the bus service added a Sunday trip early this year, he found the bus to be the better option for him, "allowing me to be back for classes."

Weeman is a big fan of the Internet connection on the bus. "Having wireless on the trip is just amazing," he remarked. "The time flies." He also praised the large leather seats and the amount of space afforded to each passenger.

"The bus is always on time and seldom full, you can get some work done, and do some e-mailing -- it's a very nice way to make the trip and definitely worth the price," he said.

President Jeffrey Lehman has been behind the service from its inception because it enhances the growing collaborations between the Ithaca and New York City campuses, which Lehman has made one of the university's priorities. "Without his assistance getting it started last semester, we couldn't have done it," Lieb said.

The bus leaves Ithaca for New York City via a stop at North Campus (Jessup Road), Sage Hall and the Oxley Equestrian Center (which has free parking), with early morning runs Monday and Wednesday and midday runs Monday through Friday. The Sunday mid-morning run is the busiest of the week. Buses return from WCMC and the Cornell Club around noon on Monday and Wednesday, with evening runs Monday through Friday and a late-afternoon Sunday run that returns to the equestrian center at 9:30 p.m. Three trips have been added for Commencement weekend. For exact times and more information, see the Campus-to-Campus Web site at http://www.c2cbus.com.