Chad Scarborough had no motorcoach experience when he launched his luxury experience, The Jet, in fall 2021. But the entrepreneur had an idea for improving travel between New York City and Washington, D.C., from the perspective of a customer who had made the trip more than a thousand times.
“We rethought the intercity travel experience entirely and tried to eliminate all the pain points,” Scarborough said.
The first-class experience delivers 14 high-tech leather reclining seats in a space that includes an elegant restroom and a bar. There’s a high-end Wi-Fi system for streaming entertainment or working. An onboard attendant serves complimentary healthy snacks and drinks, including wine, from the onboard galley.
“The seats are a game-changer because they’ve allowed us to take what has traditionally been the least comfortable way to travel and make it the single most comfortable way to travel,” Scarborough said. “You just kind of float the whole time.”
As the name implies, Scarborough sees his transportation model as competing with trains and planes for market share rather than the budget bus transportation models of Megabus and FlixBus.
Scarborough is marketing The Jet to 20- to 40-year-olds, who he believes are more open to this kind of bus travel and willing to pay the $99 to $199 price tag for an experience that rivals a first-class seat on an airline. Two vehicles make two loops per day, Thursday through Sunday.
“We’ve been getting a lot of traction in that set. We want to broaden our appeal a little bit but, right now, we’re trying to create a little cool factor and focusing on that younger up-and-coming crowd,” he said.
Scarborough doesn’t have a transportation or tech background. He worked with consultants, including Mark L. Szyperski and his firm, On Your Mark Transportation, to help him quickly understand the intricacies of intercity bus service.
“Our associates have been honored to work with Chad on this project. Many times, a client comes to us looking for advice, and then doesn’t follow all of it, or looks for a less expensive way to do it,” said Szyperski. “From the beginning, Chad has wanted to do what was the right way to do this, to take care of his employees, and have a system that was built around safety for all. We have really enjoyed being a part of this program from paper to reality.”
At 44, entrepreneurship is Scarborough’s second career. He quit his job in politics to earn his Master of Business Administration and start a successful ad agency in 2015. His marketing expertise is an asset in conveying his vision for a new kind of transportation experience.
“I think we have a cool, innovative product here, so people are kind of naturally drawn to any kind of innovation, especially when it comes to luxury. It just lets you check all the boxes,” he said.
The reviews for the service have supported Scarborough’s claim.
YouTube travel blogger Jeb Brooks reviewed The Jet in its first weeks of operation. Brooks booked his own ticket, not asking for a complimentary ride. He sent the company a message on Instagram ahead of time, asking for permission to film, which he was granted.
“He did a really thorough job of it. He gave the seat his first-ever six-star review. He’s never given a six-star review,” said Scarborough, noting the video review hit 1.5 million views in the first few days — and has nearly doubled since then. “He’s never had a video get to a million views this fast, he told us.”
In addition to Brooks dubbing The Jet a “first-class” transportation experience, the positive reviews on TikTok are garnering views in the millions. The luxury coach bus line has gotten good press coverage from traditional publications like the Washington Post and Conde Nast, as well.
“There’s something about how unique and cool the concept is … that people are really responding to, which is really exciting,” Scarborough said.
The stars of the experience are The Jet’s HoverSeats, leather recliner seats that use motion-canceling technology with an active suspension system that moves to offset any bumps or bounces along the way.
The seats were originally designed and engineered by Bose Audio. The technology was sold to United States Seating Company (USSC) several years ago.
Scarborough says he spent two and a half years developing the seats, including completing safety certifications and testing. The seat top had to be designed from scratch because Bose originally built the seat for trucks. Each seat requires power and compressed air to operate, requiring it to be designed from the ground up. The seats were fitted into four Prevost X3-45 coaches acquired in late 2019.
Working with Prevost
“It’s a fairly sophisticated electrical system for each coach to support the seats themselves, and so Prevost has obviously played a big part in helping us,” Scarborough said. “Most of that power is going to come from the engine itself. We put an extra alternator on the coach to supply power. We had to design the electrical system as well, which took more than a year to get right.”
He credits the Quebec motorcoach manufacturer — a division of Volvo — for going the extra mile on the project.
“We used external customizers to do the builds, but Prevost was there,” Scarborough said. “Prevost was not only the most supportive of the project, but with what we were trying to do with the electrical R&D and the electrical innovation on board. They were the most supportive in terms of how quickly the work could get done and the resources they were offering to us. So it made it a fairly easy decision to go with them over other bus manufacturers.”
The team at Prevost enjoyed the challenge as well, shared Steve Zeigler, Director of the company’s Bus Shell Sales Division.
“It was a pleasure working with and supporting Chad on his very innovative business concepts for The Jet project. The game changer for us was Chad’s willingness to bring us in at the very beginning of the project concept and allow us to have some input into the integration of the HoverSeats,” said Zeigler. “The Prevost X3-45 platform is the perfect fit for The Jet’s state-of-the-art first class New York / Washington, DC corridor transportation services. We look forward to continuing to support Chad as his business flourishes with this new offering.”
In light of the initial response, Scarborough is already considering his options for scaling up to other markets and maybe developing a franchise model.
Initial investors for the startup have been mostly his friends and family, along with a couple of angel investors. Scarborough is beginning conversations to do a bigger round of investments in the spring with institutional investors.
“We have a really good story to tell,” he said, noting that ridership jumped from 5% the first weekend of operation to 86% Thanksgiving weekend, and stayed north of 70% through December.
“One of the reasons we felt comfortable launching now is we feel like we’re getting toward the tail end of the pandemic,” Scarborough said.
There are two UV filtration systems, typically used in ambulances, on each motorcoach that sanitize and circulate the air every 10 minutes.
“The environment we’ve created onboard is easily the safest way to travel,” he said. “There were actually originally supposed to be 19 seats, but we decided to go down to 14 to give us a full 6 feet between rows.”
“I think probably our biggest competitor is Amtrak,” said Scarborough, adding that his service is priced the same as train service, and is comparable time-wise, with Amtrak’s service about 30-60 minutes faster.
He thinks the optimum range for his model of luxury service is 200- to 300-mile distances, connecting midsize and major cities.
“This is super scalable. It’s a much more comfortable working and travel environment. We’re excited about the possibilities. We’re focused on this corridor, but we’ll hopefully start having talks about scaling the model,” Scarborough said.
But he also admits he still has a learning curve when it comes to understanding the motorcoach industry.
“I have so much respect for everyone in the bus industry. This is a tough business,” he said. “People told me that, but you don’t really get it until you’re in it. I have a ton of respect for everyone who runs charter or scheduled service or line-run service. It’s a very challenging environment right now. Hopefully, we can stick around long enough to grow.”