Red Arrow carries business travellers, mostly. But its fares arenâ€™t out of reach for students and others making personal trips. â€œOur typical demographic is a professional or a student that does have access to a vehicle, and they choose for reasons of safety and efficiency to travel with the coach,â€ says Stepovy. â€œThe decision theyâ€™re making is: â€˜Do I drive, do I fly or do I take the coach?â€™â€ Most drive. In 2006, cars accounted for more than 90 per cent of trips between Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary. Air travel accounted for six per cent, and buses, including Red Arrow, accounted for only three per cent of trips.
It doesnâ€™t sound like much. But when somebody gets on board the Red Arrow, they usually come back; its customers tend to be enthusiastically loyal. â€œIf we get them to ride it once, theyâ€™re sold â€“ absolutely sold,â€ says Mike. â€œAnd theyâ€™ll tell 10 other people how happy they were.â€ Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith and former premier Peter Lougheed and his wife, Jeanne, have all been spotted on the black coaches that cruise along Highway 2 at about 120 km/h. â€œI find it very civilized,â€ says Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons, who uses the Red Arrow to get to Calgary and enjoys being â€œabove the frayâ€ of highway traffic, especially in winter. â€œIf Iâ€™m going down to make a presentation, now I have three hours in which I can actually sit and think and read and research and prepare.â€ This is perhaps Red Arrowâ€™s strongest selling feature: Travel time thatâ€™s enjoyable, comfortable and useful.
It was a tough sell, initially. The first Red Arrow coach that pulled out of Calgary on July 9, 1979, was even roomier than todayâ€™s coaches, seating 25 passengers at most. The coach had sandwiches, a big closet, flip-down work tables and cassette tape players pumping music into headphone jacks on each seat. Unfortunately, there were precisely zero customers on board to partake in these unconventional luxuries. â€œVery disappointing,â€ recalls Rick. Both Rick and Mike had become involved in their dadâ€™s company as kids â€“ working their way through the maintenance pit, the wash rack, the body shop and the dispatch office â€“ and both were committed to their dadâ€™s vision of an upscale coach service. But barely anyone noticed when Red Arrow launched. â€œFor a while, we were the best-kept secret in Alberta,â€ remembers Wilson.
I have always thought that this level of service would do really well between Saskatoon and Regina, even could be run by STC from different bus stops (by the Bessborough or downtown someplace). A partnership with wifi on the bus give a business traveller a couple of hours of time to work, relax or just unwind at a fraction of the amount it costs to fly to Saskatoon and Regina. I just did a quick last minute search on AirCanada.com for what it would cost me to fly from Regina and back to Saskatoon. I had to fly through Toronto. $458 (one way) for a last minute flight (via Toronto). I can also take Express Club for $124 plus fees, which is still almost twice the $138 that Red Arrow charges for a return bus trip. STC by comparison is $80 return for Saskatoon to Regina but the quality of service isâ€¦ how do I say thisâ€¦ really, really poor.
I am not a business man but I think there is a but of margin for a high end bus (oops, coach) service to run from Saskatoon to Regina. It would be interesting to see STC run a business class express from Saskatoon to Regina. There seems to be a big gap in the middle of that market. Whether the numbers support it would the next question I have.