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Peter Pan Bus Lines History

Updated on January 11, 2016
Peter C. Picknelly, Founder of Peter Pan Bus Lines
Peter C. Picknelly, Founder of Peter Pan Bus Lines

Beginnings

Peter C. Picknelly began his transportation career as a chauffeur in the early 1900s and started a small transportation company called Orange Valley Bus Company in 1920. The company was founded in East Orange, New Jersey. By 1925 Picknelly decided to pool resources with three other bus operators and relocate to Hartford, Connecticut. The new merged company was called Interstate Buses Corporation and provided bus service throughout New England. Picknelly sold his interest in the Interstate Bus Corporation in 1932 and established his own company based in Springfield Massachusetts. The new company was named Peter Pan Bus Lines and got its name from the popular children’s story Peter Pan, which was Picknellys favorite bedtime story.

Peter Pan Bus Lines began operations in 1933 with four Buick jitney vehicles with its first route being from Northhampton,MA to Boston via Stafford Springs, CT. The route took 3 ½ hours to complete and cost $3.50 for a round trip. After a lengthy battle with the state of Massachusetts Peter Pan Bus Lines was granted permission to operate a route directly from Springfield, MA to Boston in 1940, cutting travel time to under 2 ½ hours.

In 1957 the Massachusetts Turnpike opened and Peter Pan Bus Lines was granted permission to operate an express bus service from Springfield to Boston decreasing travel time to less than two hours. This gave birth to the concept “as quick as an automobile and faster than a train”. During this period the company expanded operations throughout Massachusetts to include many smaller communities. By 1963 Peter Pan Bus Lines had achieved 1 million dollars in annual sales and had a fleet of 28 buses.

Peter Pan Bus #170 circa 1979
Peter Pan Bus #170 circa 1979 | Source

Expansion

Company founder Peter Picknelly died in 1964 leaving the company to his son Peter Louis Picknelly. Peter Pan Bus Lines saw tremendous growth and success during this period providing service to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York City. Services included “all-expense paid” tours from western Massachusetts and Connecticut to the New York World’s Fair. These tours proved to be immensely popular with travelers and lead to the formation of Peter Pan World Services.

The Springfield Bus Terminal was constructed in April of 1969 and would become the corporate headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines. The terminal was unique in the fact that it became the only terminal in the United States that would provide services to both Greyhound Lines and Trailways. This would become the first intermodal terminal in the United States.

Continuing from its successes during the World’s Fair the company expanded its charter and tours business throughout the 1960’s and 70’s and by the end of the decade tours and charters accounted for two-thirds of the company’s overall sales. The 1980’s saw continued expansion as Peter Pan Bus Lines established Coach Builders. A company specializing in repair services for trucks, trailers, inter-city, transit and school bus industries. The company was also in charge of providing maintenance and repair services for the entire Peter Pan Bus Lines fleet.

Peter Pan Trailways MC-9

Peter Pan Trailways Coach 2252 enroute to NYC
Peter Pan Trailways Coach 2252 enroute to NYC | Source

Trailways

Trailways Bus System was a national to Greyhound Lines but by the mid-1980's Trailways had been suffering from a severe decline in ridership and was a shell of its former self. By 1987 Trailways was in desperate straits and its largest member Continental Trailways was purchased by Greyhound Lines. This purchase effectively eliminated Trailways as a national competitor to Greyhound, with the later becoming the major provider of intercity bus service throughout the United States. Peter Pan Bus Lines had already acquired the ailing New England Trailways in 1985 effectively doubled the size of its scheduled services, and bringing the company into New York City for the first time.

In the 1990’s Peter Pan acquired American Coach Lines in Washington, DC. This purchase bought scheduled service to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and other mid-Atlantic cities and included a maintenance facility and office in the DC area. Also during this period Peter Pan Bus Lines began operatioing under the Peter Pan Trailways name when it joined the Trailways network and provided services to Norfolk, VA and the Delmarva Peninsula paralleling services operated by Carolina Trailways . in 1999 there was an alliance formed with rival Greyhound, coordinating schedules, marketing, and ticket sales that continues to this day. Peter Pan Trailways ended its affiliation with the Trailways network in 2005 and reverted to its former Peter Pan Bus Lines name.

Bonanza Bus Lines Coach 39804 operating with Peter Pan livery
Bonanza Bus Lines Coach 39804 operating with Peter Pan livery

Acquisitions

Peter Pan Bus Lines opened a major office and maintenance facility in Secaucus, NJ running an expansion operation to its Coachbuilders division primarily providing maintenance services to its Metro New York area fleet as well as providing services to other bus company fleets. In 2003 Peter Pan once again expanded when it acquired the New England division of Coach USA including the subsidiaries of Arrow Lines, Boston Coach and Bonanza Bus Lines. This increased the size of the company to over 300 vehicles and sales to over $2 million per week. The purchase also brought some older RTS buses into their fleet which were significantly different from the more modern equipment the company was operating at the time.

The rapid rate of acquisitions continued as Peter Pan acquired the Connecticut-based tour company, ShowBus Tours in 2005, expanding their offerings to include Broadway shows as well as Yankees and Red Sox baseball games. In 2007 a joint venture with Greyhound called BoltBus was launched providing “city center to city center” service using internet-based sales and non-terminal pick-up locations. These buses featured on board WIFI services and convenient electrical plug-ins for passengers and more leg room for comfort. BoltBus has become one of the fastest growing and most popular bus services in the United States. Continuing its positive working relationship with Greyhound a new premium service non-stop direct express service was started in the Northeast . This service began in 2011 and included private waiting areas in terminals where Guest Specialists greeted passengers and provided an extra level of service.

Peter Pan Coach 796 exiting the Springfield, MA Bus Terminal southbound to NYC
Peter Pan Coach 796 exiting the Springfield, MA Bus Terminal southbound to NYC | Source

Peter Pan Bus Lines Today

Peter Pan Bus Lines is now one of the largest privately owned intercity bus companies in the United States and primarily provides services to passengers in the major cities throughout the Northeast including Boston, Hartford, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Despite its humble New England beginnings the New York Metro area is the main hub of the company’s routes and services. Today Peter Pan Bus Lines operates a modern fleet of over 250 vehicles and employs over 750 people.

A competing form of intercity bus transportation entered the market in the late 1990’s called Chinatown Bus Lines. These were older buses operated by small independent bus companies that provided street pick up service in Chinatown communities throughout many East Coast cities. The companies were usually owned and operated by Chinese Americans with the vast majority operating out of the Northeastern United States although similar operations are run on the West Coast.

Substandard safety practices in these bus operation led to several fatal accidents causing many of these companies to either be temporarily or permanently shut down by regulatory authorities opening up the lucrative Chinatown market to companies like Peter Pan. In 2012 Greyhound Bus Lines in affiliation with Peter Pan launched YO! Bus and ran express service between New York and Philadelphia and Boston and Washington, D.C. After several years of successful operations it was announced that on December 21, 2015 all YO! Bus services would be discontinued and merged into the existing BoltBus network.

Peter Pan Bus Lines Safety Video

Other Business Enterprises

In addition to its transportation interests Peter Pan Bus Lines is invested in other unrelated business ventures. These include the wholesale sporting goods companies Camfour and Hill Country which specialize in selling firearms and related products. They also own Belt Technologies a company that designs and manufactures metal belting and conveyor systems for wide ranging applications in the automation, electronics, packaging, food processing, medical device, tobacco, and aerospace industries.

Century Woodworking and Architectural Windows & Doors are Connecticut based companies that specialize in the manufacture of custom windows, doors and mill work. Duval Precision Grinding is a Massachusetts based company that provides precision grinding services for aircraft parts and other components of various industries including medical, nuclear, and commercial. Other business includes the OPAL Real Estate Group, PMP Airlines, and the Student Prince Café & the Fort Dining Room located in Springfield, MA which serves German food and beer. The Picknelly family also owns real estate holdings and hotel operations and its primary company Peter Pan Bus Lines continues to be a family owned and operated business.

The Student Prince in Springfield, MA

The Student Prince restaurant is located at 8 Fort Street in downtown Springfield, MA.
The Student Prince restaurant is located at 8 Fort Street in downtown Springfield, MA. | Source

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