Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Megabus: Before the Trip

This weekend I am going to Michigan... and getting there via the "Megabus" for the first time ever. I've gone back home by plane, by rental car (I don't have a car), and by Amtrak, so it's about time I try a bus.

The ironic part about all of this is that when Megabus launched their service to Chicago not so long ago, my dad was all for my mom taking it here for a trip where she was coming to babysit our dog. I freaked out and protested - saying that only "criminals" would be on a bus that only charges $1 each way! It also left from pretty much the heart of Deee-troit, which just still isn't a safe area. So my mom ended up taking Amtrak, and of course it was hours late, as always.

While Amtrak is a cheap way to make the journey, is has never once not been an ordeal. I used to take the train back to Ann Arbor every few weekends 11 years ago and it was always late, and I'm talking hours and hours late. Somehow what should be a four-hour trip turned into a nine-hour nightmare. One time the power even went out and we all sat in darkness, in the middle of nowhere, freezing (it was the depth of winter). I sat there shaking with my hat, earmuffs, gloves and thick winter coat on, watching my breath form clouds in the air as I exhaled. I was positive that evil little kids were going to start busting through the windows and kill us all like in some bad horror movie. So you can see why I would be interested in any alternative ways of cheap transportation.

And then... some luck! The Megabus added a stop in Ann Arbor, and positive reviews had been published in various newspapers in the Midwest. My mom came for another dog-sitting trip... and this time she said she wanted to try the bus because Amtrak was always SO late that the bus couldn't possibly be worse. So a month or so ago, my mom came and went on the Megabus and really enjoyed it. She had known (because of a write-up she had read on the service) that it tended to be a little cold on the bus, so she brought extra layers, but other than that had no issues. On the way here there were only 8 people on board, and she had a seat to herself and talked to a friendly person for the majority of the trip. It pulled in to Chicago on time.

On the way back, while it was my fault that my mom climbed onto the bus literally 30 seconds before it pulled away, taking years off of our lives (which is a story I'll write about at another tim, her trip was almost as good. This time it was extremely crowded and a half-hour late getting to Ann Arbor because of traffic leaving Chicago that was dead stopped. She said that there were some people talking on cell phones and some louder teenagers, but all of it was bearable (and all of that you can experience on Amtrak, too).

Now the time has come for me to go back to Michigan, so I compared both Amtrak and the Megabus. Amtrak was a total of $67 and the Megabus was $40.50 (the $1 seats go quickly and then the price rises as the bus fills up, but I believe the max for a one-way ticket is $27). The upside to the train is that I don't get motion sickness while reading on a train because the seats are big enough that if I sit on the aisle, I don't see the movement out the window as much. But I knew on the bus I would most likely get nauseous trying to read. Which is a bummer, because my favorite thing about all kinds of travel is the down-time you get to just relax and catch up on magazines or listen to your iPod or go through emails or whatnot. I'm still going to try to read on the bus, but am prepared that I may have to put a halt to it.

Both the train and the bus leave from Union Station in Chicago, and both have similar schedules, but since Amtrak is just so unpredictable (they don't technically own the tracks so any time another train passes, they stop for a half-hour without explanation, it's maddening), I decided to try the Megabus this time around. I was a tad worried because after booking my ticket, when I went on the Megabus web site later that same night, a message came up that said, "Sorry, the web site is closed. Please try back later."

What?!?! Web sites don't CLOSE?!?! That's the whole POINT of the Internet? So then I immediately regretted my decision because I envisioned a bunch of people manually processing bus orders and they literally couldn't have the site open around the clock because they didn't have enough people working at night or something. It was a sketchy operation and now I was at their mercy to get home!

I have since regained my confidence in the Megabus and am looking forward to trying it out shortly. And I haven't seen the web site "close" ever since.

Wish me luck and I will be sure to write about how it was...

- e

Article on the Megabus, if you're interested:
MSN Article

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