I saw an interesting article in Business Week over the weekend, about Megabus, the largest of a set of companys providing city-to-city bus service in the mid-West and on the East Coast (similar in some ways to the “Chinatown buses” that go between New York and Boston).
It’s an interesting model, based on low prices (at least for some passengers), high amenities (WiFi!) and convenience (service from curbside locations).
The article suggests it could be an alternative to High Speed Rail.
As far as I can tell, there’s no West Coast equivalent. Could this work in the Eugene to Vancouver, BC corridor? Portland to San Francisco?
9 responses to “Would Curbside Inter-city Bus Service Fly Here?”
It potentially could, however I think the fact that there isn’t currently one is indicative of how small of a market we have in this region. Still, when I lived in Connecticut, I loved super low fares on Megabus, plus the motorcoaches were generally a step above those offered by Greyhound. It was a little annoying to do curbside boarding when the weather was bad and when they kept changing where the boardings would be. Bottom line, if you never rode one of them, and something like that entered the market, it would still be a benefit as it would force existing bus service/Amtrak Thruway to be cheaper.
The Eugene to BC corridor is fairly well served I think, with Amtrak, Greyhound, and Alaska/Horizon air. Where I have always noticed a distinct lack of attractive and available bus lines is to tourism destinations.
We could use more access to the coast, or to skiing. We have some, but it would be nice to have a better “single provider” or single schedule entity – as the current services are pretty scattered, confusing, expensive, or impractical.
Just my thoughts.
I think Megabus tried operating out of LA but eventually shut down that hub because it was a money-loser.
Ron Swaren wrote a column about MegaBus here back in 2009, and a certain “ranter” posted a link to it on there site before that. I like the idea, after all we don’t complain about TriMet offering “curbside” service (in fact, I think it’s safe to say that it’s a good thing when local transit is a curbside service!).
MegaBus used to have California-based service, which they discontinued. They used to have a press release on their site, which has since gone away. Found an article about it here:
Currently, I ride Greyhound for my Portland/Spokane trips (Remember that they too severely curtailed service in the Pacific Northwest a few years back). They have an advance booking and frequent rider program that can make things cheaper if one utilizes both of them. The huge, obvious drawback is the limited schedule: ONE direct Portland/Spokane trip per day, ONE Spokane/Portland trip per day. Otherwise, it’s a 12-hour ride via Seattle (only way to get out there if you want/need to travel overnight). I don’t use Amtrak for these trips as the schedule simply doesn’t work.
I think our best options here in the Northwest is expanding The Point (Oregon) and Travel Washington, which are sponsored by the state DOTs and line up separate companies under common branding. It’s not perfect, but much better than the current state of intercity public transit.
It depends on what you mean by “alternative”. :)
If by “alternative”, it is meant an alternate choice for travelers, then certainly. Many people are more than happy to spend time to save money, and there should be lots of travel options available. And unlike HSR, Amtrak, Greyhound, or air travel, curbside service is something that a bus can do relatively efficiently.
OTOH, the article seems to be suggesting that this is an alternative to HSR in the sense that “see, people have a bus they can take–we don’t need to build HSR”. I disagree–there is definitely a market for faster medium-distance travel. These sorts of bus services are commonplace in China (to travel between Hong Kong and my wife’s hometown in Guangdong province when visiting Asia, we use a bus service remarkably similar to this one) and co-exist quite well with faster rail services.
While not an exact equivalent (it doesn’t provide curbside service), the Mexican bus company Transportes Estrella Blanca (White Star Transport–one wonders if they’ve watched Titanic) does provide cross-border service to Mexico, as well as intercity service both within the US and within Mexico. TEB focuses on the Mexican and Mexican-American community, and schedules, marketing/promotion materials, and service only appear to be available in Spanish. But if you speak Spanish, you can ride one of their busses to Seattle or LA if you like.
While not about Megabus, Andrew Sullivan lists a litany of rider complaints about the Fung Wah Chinatown busses–everything from busses catching fire, to busses being overbooked with no refunds to passengers denied boarding, to live chickens roaming free on board.
I don’t know why a large bus like the MegaBus could not be outfitted for overnight travel with some sort of sleeping accomodations. This would make those >8 hr. trips tolerable. Not only I-5 destinations, but other western cities, such as Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, etc. If there were a low cost alternative to airline travel where you had a choice other than a reclining seat or could just wake up at your destination, it would attract more people.
This is what “Jennifer” said in 2009:
I love the Megabus that runs from St. Louis to Chicago – it’s a five-hour trip by car, which is very pleasant by bus, and it is a super-cheap way to take the kids to the big city for the weekend. If you buy your tickets way in advance, you get the cheaper fares and your pick of dates. What’s not to like? A Megabus between Portland and Seattle would be a great thing.
I wonder if we could sustain the ridership with our population differences.
The Chinatown bus, which refers to a few bus companies who run buses all the way between Boston and destinations all over the region (not just along I-5 corridor) and as far south as Virginia daily, provides a much better consumer value and ease of use — no worries about what time your bus ticket is for, you are not guaranteed a seat but you can pay cash as you take your seat. Having to show up 20 minutes early to your bus just to get on at a certain time never appealed to me. I’ve made the schlep between Philly and NYC about 100 times, and the buses are usually full. This, in complement to the bolt and greyhound buses, and you’ve got a pretty significant population hopping on buses.
I wonder if it has to do with car ownership. All of these buses use the same routes as SOV’s, so they have to deal with the traffic. I think most of their ridership are folks who are carfree and see it as the most economical means to get from A to B (much, much cheaper than Amtrak).
When I did own a car in the chinatown bus region, I rarely drove because of the cost of gas + tolls outweighing the $10 one way ticket.
I doubt the Northwest could support Megabus service. They work from hubs like Chicago, Toronto, New York City and Washington DC. Given the size of its population, Los Angeles/Southern California would have been the most likely prospect for them on the West Coast, and they couldn’t make it work. It’s unlikely that Northwest service with, say, a Seattle hub would do better.