ITHACA, N.Y. — A new bus company is promising to offer trips directly between Ithaca and New York City at a significantly cheaper rate than Cornell’s Campus2Campus line.
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The privately-owned “Big Red Bullet” aims to provide better and faster service than the Shortline, which stops in several towns between Ithaca and NYC, and at a cheaper rate than Cornell’s C2C, which charges $180 per round-trip.
The Big Red Bullet is expecting to have its first buses — equipped with WiFi and many of the other amenities of the C2C line — making trips by late September or early October, according to General Manager Bob Nicholas.
The company was founded by recent Cornell MBA graduate Ali Nasser, Nicholas says.
Rates on the Big Red Bullet are expected to be $110 for a round-trip during the week and $130 for trips on weekends, Nicholas says.
A one-way Big Red Bullet trip will cost $55 on weekdays and $65 on weekends, Nicholas says. A one-way trip on Cornell’s Campus2Campus costs $90.
“From what I’m hearing, from everyone I talk to, it sounds like it will be very popular,” says Nicholas, who was previously the manager of the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.
On Monday, Nicholas is set to talk to the City of Ithaca’s Board of Public Works to seek approval to take the bus on city of Ithaca streets. Nicholas says he does not expect any difficulty obtaining the necessary permits from the city, though the agenda for the meeting says the TCAT bus company has raised some questions about the Big Red Bullet’s proposed stops.
The buses will run non-stop from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., directly from New York City to Ithaca and back, according to Nicholas. (The Campus to Campus line leaves Ithaca at 5:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., its website says.)
The proposed Big Red Bullet schedule is below:
Kevin Sutherland, the chief of staff for Mayor Svante Myrick, said the project is likely to be good news for commuters — both in New York City and in Ithaca.
“Competition is good. This will likely have a price-point that allows more people who aren’t necessarily affiliated with Cornell to have access to New York City,” Sutherland said. “That’s a good thing.”
With tolls at the Lincoln and Holland tunnel at $25, Sutherland said, the new bus system could come at an opportune moment for Ithacans seeking to enjoy the Big Apple on a tight budget.
“Friends tell me how frustrating it can be to get out of town, especially if they don’t have their own vehicles,” Sutherland says. “New York is not cheap to get to.”
Sutherland said the project is likely to be approved by the city. “They’ve got to make sure they get all their ducks in a row and are working with TCAT to make sure their routes don’t affect each other,” Sutherland added.
Nicholas, of the Big Red Bullet, said that that the new company is contracting with a company that has connections throughout the country rather than buying new buses.
“The advantage of that if there are any problems with the buses, they have so many connections that … they’ll be able to replace a bus, no matter where it breaks down, within a half-hour,” he says. “These are details you take care of when you’re setting up an operation — so when the worst-case scenario comes, you have a backup plan.”
Both Sutherland and Nicholas said they weren’t worried that the new bus line would make things increasingly difficult for Ithaca’s already beleaguered airport, which has wrestled with funding problems recently.
“I don’t think this has any effect on the airport: People who use the airport to go to New York are mostly connecting with flights to places beyond New York,” Nicholas said.
Nicholas credited Nasser with coming up with the idea and funding for the Big Red Bullet project. Nasser went to the American University of Cairo before earning his master’s of engineering at Cornell in 2010, and then his MBA in Investment Banking at Cornell’s Graduate School of Management in 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“He was traveling backwards and forwards quite a bit between Ithaca and New York; he hated the Shortline because of all the stops … and a $180 round-trip for Cornell was a little excessive,” Nicholas says of Nasser, who now works at Citibank. “So this is a service that doesn’t have all the stops, and is not quite as expensive.”
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