Although the travel industry has largely moved online when it comes to browsing and booking everything from flights to hotels, there is still a gap for those looking to search for and book regional bus trips. Montreal, QC-based Busbud is out to change that, and today debuted a revamped website which lets travelers search schedules, trip durations, and prices for bus trips around the world. The company soft launched in late 2011 and spent the better part of this year gathering the necessary scheduling data to make the experience of taking a bus in a foreign country much more user-friendly. The company has seen initial traction from users in South America, the U.S., and Europe, and now offers routes in over 4,000 cities around the world.
Co-founded by Harvard MBA Louis-Philippe Maurice, the idea was inspired by a decision to go on a six-month backpacking trip in South America, a trip that ended up featuring over 50 bus trips. “Going through all these buses, I realized that the customer experience could be a lot better. A lot of other folks were buying plane tickets on Kayak and Expedia and sites like these and there was nothing comparable for bus tickets,” Maurice said in an interview. “So I really kind of wished I had a site to book bus tickets from one city to another, one central place instead of going to a bus station and waiting and talking to staff at the station that don’t speak the same language.”
Recognizing the challenge of aggregating the kind of information they were after, considering that not all bus companies have online schedules, Busbud uses a variety of tools to gather its data. For larger bus companies, it has an API they can integrate with that pulls their scheduling data and parses it to format everything online. It works directly with smaller bus companies, uploading schedules from an Excel spreadsheet. Travelers can then input where they’re traveling to and from, and get results similar to how they would on a train or airline website. Unlike an online bus company like Greyhound, travelers can see routes from a variety of different bus operators, as well as the price, trip duration, and more recently the company also enabled Facebook comments to allow users to inform each other of their experiences on a particular route.
Although the website currently only offers search functionality, the Busbud team will be adding ticket booking in order to realize their vision of the service being a go-to site for everything related to buses, and is in talks with several bus companies, both large and small. Once they add booking capabilities, they will take a fee off every ticket booked through the platform.
Maurice mentioned that the company’s biggest challenge is convincing potential users to go from purchasing tickets at the physical bus station or on individual bus company websites to switch and use their platform. He also noted that there are blogs, websites, and guides that provide information on different bus routes, but the biggest issue is that they are either regional or very fragmented. Another startup tackling ground transportation is Pombai, which launched earlier this year to provide train and bus information primarily in the Asian market.
“We’re kind of surprised to find that there’s not many online solutions selling tickets through some sort of search engine or aggregator, it’s more of independent bus company websites or the bus stations themselves, basically those are the other ways of distribution. But we’re not competing with them in the sense that we’re trying to replace them but rather we’re looking to provide a more user-friendly way for folks who are more tech savvy,” Maurice said.
The company will also be looking to add mobile apps, recognizing that although some travelers plan their trip online, there are still others who would like to search and book on the go as they travel. With Busbud looking to add ticket booking functionality, travelers who might prefer a more eco-friendly and cheaper alternative for getting around once they land somewhere could have a viable source of information to help them avoid the hassles of figuring out each individual country’s bus routes and schedules on their own. Until then though, the experience will still leave a lot to be desired for travelers, since they’ll have to search for trips and book tickets separately.