Megabus: Taking buses to the next level Call it prescient: In the past year, Megabus has expanded its operations to 25 cities in the United States and Canada as fuel costs have risen, giving travelers a cheap alternative to driving and flying when they need it most. The bus line keeps its fares extremely low—starting from $1 for the first few people who book seats on each bus—by selling tickets online and doing pickups and drop-offs in the centers of cities rather than at terminals. At the same time, Megabus hasn't skimped on quality—its double-decker fleet is equipped with free Wi-Fi, video screens, headsets, and seat belts. Plus, many buses run on biodiesel fuel. "We're conscious of what the traveling public wants," says Dale Moser, president and chief operating officer. "We're saving people money but still giving them a coach outfitted with the latest technology." Now even the 94-year-old grande dame of bus companies, Greyhound, is rethinking its business model. Greyhound joined with competitors this year to launch two bus lines, BoltBus and NeOn, with similar low fares and high-tech amenities. Megabus didn't start a trend, it reinvented bus travel for a new generation. —Jean Tang
The Downside of Low-Cost Buses
by Graham T. Beck
18 Sep 2008
On a recent Wednesday evening, Erin Brown waited for the Fung Wah bus to Boston with a dozen or so other people on a crowded Canal Street sidewalk. "It's such a crush - the people, the vendors, the cars, narrow sidewalks, narrow streets. I don't know why they leave from here, but the price is right," she said.
Brown is not alone in her sentiment. It often feels as though every inch of Chinatown is jam-packed. Cars clogs street from the Manhattan Bridge to the Holland Tunnel. Sidewalks overflow with tourists, workers and neighborhood residents. Stalls spill out from shops, and lately it seems that every few blocks there is a line of 20 or so people queuing up for an interstate bus.
The buses are nothing new. Since 1998, companies like Fung Wah, using spaces reserved for tour buses or agreed upon spots in the neighborhood, have run curbside operations, picking up and dropping off passengers. The recent surge in travel costs, though, has made more outfits see the benefits of such a low-overhead way of doing business. This means more buses jamming city streets and curbsides and more bus queues on already crowded sidewalks.
It has reached the point, according to City Councilmember Alan Gerson, where there now are more interstate bus pick-ups and drop-offs in Chinatown each day than there are at the Port Authority. Although the competition has driven down prices for travelers, it has created some difficult situations for neighborhood residents, passing pedestrians and local businesses.
September 26, 2008
Jet Set, Meet the Bus Bunch
By TRACIE ROZHON
KENNY BASCOM stood near the steering wheel of his BoltBus, just about to leave from West 33rd Street in Manhattan, bound for Washington. He called his passengers to attention.
"Can I put a rule in?" he asked. "This bus doesn't move unless you smile. And here's another thing: You got cellphones? Use 'em."
There was a buzz of disbelief.
Use the cellphones? Plug in the laptops! Chat with your fellow passengers and laugh - guilt-free - with a friendly driver at the helm and very comfortable seats all around you.
All for $25 or less, sometimes much less, depending on when you reserve. B.Y.O.F. (bring your own food).
Starting about a dozen years ago with the so-called Chinatown buses, which were the first to offer a minimum of frills (and schedules), Route I-95 between Boston and Washington has become jammed with cheap express buses with jazzy names and the design and Web sites to match: BoltBus (online, tap a key and watch lightning strike!), Megabus (a huge, cherubic driver is emblazoned on the side of the bus), DC2NY, Washington Deluxe and others.
Capitalizing on the success of those first Chinatown buses, the big boys got into the business - BoltBus is owned by Greyhound, and Megabus by a large Scottish transportation company, Stagecoach Group, through its subsidiary Coach USA. As the companies refine their service, the cheap express bus experience just keeps changing, competing to offer amenities: BoltBus now offers plugs for electrical appliances; Washington Deluxe has just added Dupont Circle to its list of Washington stops.
Judging by a recent round trip from New York to Washington - down on BoltBus, back on Megabus - the changes are being seen and, for the most part, appreciated by the passengers, a surprisingly diverse group.
Megabus to halt service in L.A.
Bargain bus service Megabus, which touted fares as low as $1, said Friday that it would pull out of Los Angeles because of low ridership.
The decision to shut down the hub, which was expected, came less than a year after Megabus began service from Los Angeles to cities including San Francisco and Las Vegas.
"Our approach has been to go into different markets and give it a shot and see how they'll develop," said Megabus President Dale Moser. "If they develop quickly, we'll certainly sustain it. But in this case, the ridership trends aren't growing enough."
Megabus, a subsidiary of Coach USA, will end its service from Los Angeles to San Francisco and Oakland after June 22, and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, San Jose and Millbrae, Calif., a few weeks earlier, Moser said.
Earlier this year, Megabus halted its service from Los Angeles to San Diego and Phoenix.
Despite spending "thousands of dollars" in advertising, Moser said, the 56-seat buses would sometimes pull out of Los Angeles with as few as 12 riders.
Meanwhile, the service is taking off in the Midwest, where Megabus serves 17 cities and has seen its business increase 137% during the last year, he said.
"We're disappointed too," Moser said. "It doesn't mean at a later date we won't revisit bringing the service back."
Low-cost service between Philadelphia, New YorkPerhaps there's no such thing as a free lunch, but a new Philadelphia-to-New York bus service may come close May 30 when it begins offering free or even $1 seats for a few lucky riders.
Megabus.com, a two-year-old division of Coach USA, of Chicago, intends to unveil plans today for a new service like ones it already operates in Chicago, Los Angeles and abroad. It could compete with existing low-cost bus lines in Philadelphia's Chinatown, and it capitalizes on Web-based booking systems and fuel-efficient vehicles to push down costs even in the face of ever-rising diesel prices.
Megabus says it will offer eight round-trips a day, with Philadelphia stops on John F. Kennedy Boulevard near 30th Street Station and at Fifth and Market Streets, near the Independence Visitor Center. The only New York stop is at Penn Station, at Eighth Avenue between 32d and 33d Streets.
All seats on Megabuses will be free the first week. Thereafter, they will cost from $1 to $14 each way, said Dale Moser, president of Coach USA L.L.C., a national operator of charter and scheduled bus services, based in Paramus, N.J.
Megabus.com will begin similar express service May 30 between New York and six other cities: Atlantic City, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Toronto and Washington. The company will operate like a hub-and-spoke airline, with all routes nonstop to and from New York. There are no plans to add other routes from Philadelphia, Moser said.