Bus companies are aggressively pursuing travellers in a bid to give airlines a run for their money. They're offering new coaches, rock-bottom fares, and perks like Internet access so passengers can be connected while they ride.
Cheap nationwide bus company nakedbus.com is the first in New Zealand to offer WiFi to its customers.
For passenger Kate Harris it’s long overdue: “Every Friday I head home to see my family in Whangarei. I used to fly but once I added up check-in times with the time and cost of getting to the airport from Albany, it worked out better to go by bus. With nakedbus.com I’m connected to the internet the whole way, plus if I book early enough I can get a seat for $1,” says Ms Harris.
Nakedbus.com founder Hamish Nuttall agrees, “Our business is growing rapidly, in only four years we’ve gone from four routes to visiting 320 towns and cities around the country every day. Airlines only reach 23 places, so in the majority of areas we’re the only option for many travellers. We’ve been inundated with requests from international visitors asking for WiFi,” says Mr Nuttall. “We had to source and modify specialist equipment from Europe that’s rugged enough to withstand long-distance bus travel through NZ’s windy roads and provide enough bandwith.”
The WiFi box also offers video surveillance and sophisticated maintenance tracking.
“Streaming surveillance video from wireless cameras on buses has been very successful for bus operators overseas. Plus the engine can automatically send back speed, braking, and oil pressure data, so instead of pulling buses off the road for checks you have a real time feed coming from the engine. Companies can literally talk to buses while they’re on the road,” says business IT expert Brent Larsen.
Ten years ago many saw bus travel as a last resort, but now with nakedbus.com installing WiFi on their vehicles, the bus industry is beginning to lose the stigma.
"Airlines offer minimal connectivity for passengers, mostly just text and email services. Our customers can skype, facebook, and youtube while they travel,” smiles Mr Nuttall.
WiFi will be free on the Auckland to Kerikeri via Paihia route until the end of the year when nakedbus.com begins rolling out WiFi over their entire network.
The service is powered by the Moovbox M220 Mobile Broadband Gateway, a multi-radio, ruggedised in-vehicle communications device that delivers Ethernet, WiFi and GPS over a range of carrier-class backhaul networks.