The Intercity Bus

Are buses becoming the transportation mode of choice for intercity travel? Jonna McKone has a good post over at The City Fix that explores a few trends that help answer this question. Intercity bus service is something I've been thinking about for a while, and I expressed some initial opinions back in the summer. Since that time, I had a pretty terrible experience that has really soured how I view the industry.

(from timailius on Flickr)

Earlier this month I rode Megabus from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. The trip was problematic from the beginning. The bus was over a half-hour late arriving in Pittsburgh and nearly 45 minutes late departing.

Approximately 30 miles south of Breezewood, our bus broke down on the side of I-70. The driver made several calls, and eventually told us that the only vehicle Megabus had available to send was all the way back in Pittsburgh. Someone would have to drive it the entire route we'd just covered. This meant we were stuck sitting on the side of I-70 for no less than 4 hours.

We arrived at DC after midnight. I can't say it was a pleasant trip.

While we were stuck, our driver told us some interesting things about Megabus and how poorly the company is managed. He complained that mechanics cut corners when it comes to maintenance and buses fail far more often than they should.

To me, it seems like the Megabus system is stretched way too thin. The company keeps adding service, even when it doesn't have sufficient resources to handle new capacity. Stiff competition means they must keep costs low, even at the expense of customer service and providing reliable transportation.

I understand the appeal of intercity bus travel, especially when price is taken into consideration. But it's an apples to oranges comparison when bus providers aren't able to offer a level of service compatible to flying or riding the rails (both of which, I know, are hardly perfect). Ultimately, consumers will have to decide if paying a little more is worth it for the peace of mind that buses will get them where they need to go. Unless something changes in the meantime, I'll be avoiding Megabus for intercity travel.