Late one sunny morning last week, a toddler wearing blue fuzzy monster slippers jumped up and down outside the Charlottesville Amtrak station.

“Beep beep!” he squealed in the direction of the sleek charter bus in front of him. His parents nestled their luggage into the bus undercarriage. “Vroom! A wheel!”

The family was boarding a brand-new bus route out of Charlottesville, one that runs daily to New York City, with stops in — and only in — Richmond, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

The route is run by FlixBus, an intercity bus travel company that, while new to Charlottesville, is big in Europe. FlixBus got its start in Germany in 2011 and is now Europe's largest bus network, with routes connecting Portugal to Poland and everywhere in between.

“It's bananas. It's just a huge network,” said Sean Hanft, public relations manager for FlixBus North America.

FlixBus launched in the U.S. in 2018, with a line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and has been expanding service across North America since. In October 2021, FlixBus acquired Greyhound — the largest bus network in North America — which suffered massive financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here in Charlottesville, Greyhound's financial losses meant the abrupt closing of the company's bus station on West Main Street in late 2020. In the months that followed, travelers were confused about where to catch their Greyhound bus, and once they found it, were waiting outside in all weather.

That uncertainty caused distress over the future of Greyhound's relatively inexpensive way to travel outside of Charlottesville. 

More about the local Greyhound station

FlixBus will not be replacing Greyhound. Instead, it will supplement what Greyhound is already doing, said Hanft. Whereas Greyhound serves about 1,900 different destinations, including many small towns across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, FlixBus specializes in point-to-point direct routes with fewer stops, usually between bigger cities. A Greyhound trip from Charlottesville to New York City often requires a bus transfer or two; FlixBus does not.

FlixBus is also generally cheaper than Greyhound, according to both bus lines' websites. For instance, on April 11, booking a next-day trip from Charlottesville to New York was about $60 for a one-way, no transfer FlixBus ride, and about $130 to $140 for a two- or three-transfer one-way Greyhound ride.

FlixBus, like Greyhound, uses a reactive pricing model, so last-minute bookings are usually more expensive. Booking a ticket to and from New York a month out costs about $30 each way.

For rides to the cities on this particular route, FlixBus is also cheaper than taking Amtrak.

Boarding the bus right behind the slipper-clad toddler and his family was Angel, who had to travel to Massachusetts unexpectedly, for a funeral.

“It was either this or a train, and the train was more expensive,” he said. (He declined to give his last name for privacy reasons). He'd transfer to another FlixBus in New York for the second leg of the trip.

Getting people where they need to go quickly and affordably is paramount, said Hanft, but the company has broader goals for its North American routes, too.

“We're trying to make buses more attractive, trying to dispel preexisting notions that exist about the American bus industry,” namely that it's inconvenient and often complicated.

Currently, FlixBus is partnering with local charter bus companies to run this particular route from Charlottesville. A woman seeing off her college-age son asked if she could look inside the bus.

“Wow, this is nice!,” she exclaimed to no one in particular, before nudging her son too a seat and saying, “This is a nice one.”

I'm Dexter Auction's neighborhoods reporter. I’ve never met a stranger and love to listen, so, get in touch with me here. If you’re not already subscribed to our free newsletter, you can do that here, and we’ll let you know when there’s a fresh story for you to read. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of you.