Go round and round: Megabus aims to make bus travel a quality alternative

Posted Online: April 29, 2012, 6:10 pm
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By Debi Neville & Sarah Gardner
Want to travel but have more time than money? Megabus might be right for you. It's the first city-to-city bus line dedicated to bringing "low-cost, express bus service for as low as $1 via the Internet" to 70 cities in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. and Canada, according to the company website. Launched in April 2006, Megabus is a subsidiary of Coach USA, and has served over 15 million passengers as of January 2012.

"There has been a jaded view of bus travel in the past, but we are trying to raise the bar and show that this can be a viable option for travel," says Bryony Chamberlain, a spokesperson for Megabus. She says the company is committed to offering a high-quality travel experience at an affordable cost. "And it's green!" she enthuses.

Just what do they mean by quality? For starters, a high level of training for their drivers, says Chamberlain, and 24-hour monitoring of all buses by GPS. The buses themselves feature free Wi-Fi, power outlets at each seat, on-board restrooms, and allowances for one piece of 50-pound luggage and one carry-on per customer for free. The company recently added 12 new state-of-the art double-decker buses to their Midwest network, an $8 million investment that Chamberlain says demonstrates their commitment to meeting customer needs.

The buses aren't just high-tech, they are also handicap accessible. Those who use a wheelchair or scooter can have them stored safely in the luggage compartment. If a traveler is not able to make it up a couple of steps, he or she can contact the company at (877) 462-6342 for assistance.

Megabus operations are unique in several respects: They operate with no offices (all transactions are via the Internet), no tickets (it doesn't hurt to bring a copy of your trip's confirmation), payment by credit card only, no cash or check (you only need your reservation number to get on board), and no terminals (pick up and transfers happen near easy-to-find landmarks -- in Iowa City, for example, the pick-up point is at the intersection of South Dubuque Street and East Court Street by the Greyhound station.)

Like all other modes of transportation, prices vary depending on when and where you travel. The earlier you book, the cheaper it is. The company is committed to offering at least one $1 seat on every bus, and although those seats tend to get snatched up quickly, the cost doesn't go straight from $1 to their highest fares, says Chamberlain. "Prices from Iowa City to Chicago might be as high as $35, but most will be cheaper." There is a 50-cent charge (50 cents!) to make a reservation. If you need to change a reservation, that will cost you another whopping 50 cents, plus another half a buck for the new reservation.

At the moment, Megabus has two points of origin in Iowa--Iowa City and Des Moines--from which you can travel to Omaha or Chicago. The only point of origin in Illinois is in Chicago, but as the original point of origin for Megabus in the U.S., it has developed an extensive network of destinations, "as far north as Minneapolis and as far south as Memphis," says Chamberlain.

There has been an especially positive response to Megabus service in Iowa City, says Chamberlain, noting that the company has increased the size of the vehicles serving Iowa City from single- to double-decker coaches to accommodate the high volume of travelers.

Although the fares are low, don't look for any senior or student discounts to lower prices further. Age doesn't matter. Kids over 2 years old are charged a standard fare. If they are under 7, parents must provide an approved car seat. Children aged 2 and younger can sit on a parent's lap.

The best way to save on Megabus fares is to be flexible with travel dates and book as far in advance as possible. Weekend fares will typically be higher, says Chamberlain, while travelers who can book trips for weekdays will usually pay less. And keep your eyes on the website: Megabus often offers free rides as a promotion in celebration of adding another destination to their list.

To learn more about Megabus, including booking information, visit megabus.com.


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