Inconvenient Bus Travel

I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to inter-city bus travel. I understand the benefits of riding these buses to get from one city to another. I certainly appreciate the low cost. I've also had bad enough experiences to make me question whether I ever want to give them my business again.

Lydia DePillis writes that Megabus and Boltbus are both moving their operations from a great location in downtown DC near Metro Center, to much less desirable locations, in lieu of construction that's about to begin on CityCenterDC.

(from kenudigit on Flickr)

This is a really unfortunate turn of events. While Boltbus's new location won't be too terrible, Megabus's new pick-up and drop-off point at North Capital and K Street will be significantly worse. One of the great things about these bus operators, at least compared to Greyhound, is that you don't have to get to an awful bus station in a bad part of town. Or at least you didn't used to have to... And their marketing pitch is that they'll pick you up in a convenient location, right on the street, and by saving money on overhead, can pass that cost onto the customers.

As these bus companies grow, it becomes harder to maintain on-the-street pickups, so the pressure to consolidate into centralized bus stations grows, or regulatory pressure will push them into less-than-desirable locations.

This reminds me of the age-old bus vs. rail debate, not just for long-distance travel, but for any kind of travel. Bus are almost always a less-expensive alternative to rail. Sometimes, flexibility is cited as an advantage, but it's not always advantageous. Train stations will never move; bus stops can disappear or move overnight, routes can be altered or canceled easily.

I can pretty confidently say that in 5 or 10 years there will be trains making trips between DC and New York. As for these low-cost buses? I certainly can't make the same claim with any level of certainty.

5 comments:

    Excellent points.

    Honestly, I don't know how they can survive based on their pricing structure. They *have* to be losing money.

    Which is fine, from the standpoint of building a new market. But I don't see how they'll make it in the long run.

    I hope Megabus makes it at least until June, though, because I have a trip planned, and Megabus is the only feasible option.

     
    On February 28, 2011 Anonymous said...

    Matt
    I wouldn't worry as Megabus is owned by one of the world's largest and shrewdest transport companies Stagecoach. http://www.stagecoachgroup.com/
    Here is Britain they run a huge amount of trains, buses and of course Megabus and although offering a few cheap fares they make mega amounts of money.

     
    On February 28, 2011 Anonymous said...

    Matt
    I wouldn't worry as Megabus is owned by one of the world's largest and shrewdest transport companies Stagecoach. http://www.stagecoachgroup.com/
    Here is Britain they run a huge amount of trains, buses and of course Megabus and although offering a few cheap fares they make mega amounts of money.

     

    I wouldn't be so worried about Megabus going out of business, but I would be cautious about Megabus canceling routes that aren't working out for them.

     

    I am not at all convinced that these busses will disappear. I am a fairly price insensitive traveler between DC and New York, and

    1) cannot deal with airplanes and their absurd security / procedures / delays
    2) even the Acela isn't much faster than the bus and has random delays that are so unpredictable that I can't rely on them anymore

    So basically I'm left with these busses that even with its sketchy qualities give me

    1) fairly reliable arrival times
    2) power & Internet access (though I use data cards usually)

    I don't really see flight and rail travel fixing their structural problems in the next decade (or even two decades) though.