I’m still in the middle of my Midwestern swing, and I had an interesting experience that I thought was worth posting about this week. No, it didn’t have any wings attached. It was the MegaBus. There was a lot of good and a lot of bad about this thing. And it has implications for airlines.
I had to get down from Chicago to Indianapolis, so I perused my options. I was hoping to use a friend’s buddy pass to fly United on the short hop, but with the weather rolling in and the flights filling up, I thought it better to change course.
I looked at the train, and man, was it cheap. I could take a ride for only $19, but the train goes once a day and takes over 5 hours, getting in at midnight. That wasn’t going to fly with the in-laws.
I looked at Greyhound, but then someone suggested I look at MegaBus. I forgot they went out of Chicago, but when I looked, I saw they fan out all over the Midwest from there. I decided to go for it. My bus would leave at 6p and arrive a mere 3 hours and 15 minutes later. This seemed like the way to go.
I booked my ticket online and the system gave me a reservation number which I would give to the driver. It said to be at the bus stop 15 minutes before departure. In Chicago, it said the bus left from Union Station. If I needed to make a change, there was in fact a fee . . . $1. Nice.
I arrived at the massive Union Station looking for any sign of MegaBus and I couldn’t find one. I asked one person who told me to go upstairs. Then another person said to go outside and turn left. After wandering around aimlessly, the third person I asked told me the stop was a block south of the station, where I could see others lined up.
The stop was nothing but a sign and empty sidewalk. I sat down and did some work online while waiting for the bus to show. One bus came and picked people up for Iowa City, but the rest of us just sat there waiting.
Six o’clock came and went and there was no bus. In the meantime, an army of panhandlers walked back and forth begging us for change, unused bus transfers, bus passes, you name it. Even when I was on the phone, these guys would interrupt my conversation, and it was incredibly frustrating.
By 630p, I was getting annoyed. I had signed up for text message alerts but I hadn’t received anything about a delay. I called MegaBus reservations and they said they didn’t know anything but they gave me the number for a different customer service line. I called that and sat on hold.
Finally, someone picked up and told me that he would see what was up. He came back with the good news that the bus was only two blocks away. It was still no excuse for not providing that information more easily.
While this was all going on, a group of very drunk Cubs fans showed up and started asking everyone where they were going to sit. I just hoped to be able to sit nowhere near them. I solidified that thought when they ran to the corner drug store to pick up some more alcohol.
So our motley crew of about 30 or so boarded the bus and gave our reservation numbers to the driver. The bus was a double-decker and the drunkards went upstairs, so I stayed on the bottom. I was pleasantly surprised.
The first couple rows were actually lounge style with seats facing each other and a table in the middle with cup holders. Wanting to do work, I sat in one of those areas and had another person sitting on the other side.
The seats were comfortable and the bus had 110V power throughout. There was also wifi, but it was incredibly spotty so I just used my Verizon card instead.
Things started off rough . . . literally. That road getting out of Chicago is brutal and we were bouncing around enough that I couldn’t do any work. I had to wait until we reached Indiana for things to smooth out. But from there, it was smooth sailing.
The downstairs clientele was a good one – they were quiet. The guy across from me was from the UK and was here touring around baseball parks. The guy across was traveling for work. I don’t know about anyone else because they were either asleep or working.
We pulled in to Indy exactly when we were told and that was it. It was a nice ride. So what does this mean for the airlines?
Well, short haul routes can easily be served with a bus or train, but a bus requires a lot less investment. The product onboard this new generation of buses is quite nice, and it might be something that airlines would want to consider as a partner in the future. Multi-modal is the cool thing to do, after all.