Greyhound/Megabus (U.S. bus system), Chicago
I first heard about Megabus when I was visiting the UK, I couldn't believe the low, low, fares that they were advertising for bus travel in the UK! Megabus in the US works pretty much the same way, a certain number of seats sell for as low as $1 for a one way ticket so the earlier you book, the more likely you will find those low, low fares. Even if you don't snag one of the $1 seats, the fares are still reasonable. My VT friend Jen (coair13) was the 1st person I know to use Megabus, she paid $30 round trip to get to Chicago from Cleveland, cheaper than driving with the high gas costs and parking in Chicago.
The routes are pretty limited, as least right now, and serves only the following midwestern US cities: Chicago, Cinncinati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul and St. Louis. But if you are traveling between those cities,I think this is a terrific, affordable option for travel that really takes not much longer than driving yourself.
There was a recent article in the Chicago Tribune comparing Megabus to Greyhound and Megabus came out on top for price and length of trip (less stops), level of comfort was about the same. Greyhound's advantages include more routes and you can book over the phone or at the bus station and currently Megabus can only be booked online.
The bus stop in Chicago is near Union Station, not at the Greyhound Station. One of the ways Megabus stays so cheap is because they don't have ticket personnel or the upkeep of a bus station.
Prices: Megabus.com one-way fares start at $1. Fares vary by reservation date, day of travel and demand for seats. A 50¢ fee is charged for all reservations. Part of the reason ticket prices are low is because there are no terminals.
The earliest you can purchase is 1.5 months in advance.
Boarding: Passengers should be at the station 15 minutes before departure. Seats are not assigned: first come, first serve.
MB pick up location in Chicago is outside Union Station (225 S Canal St) on the East side of Canal Street. (see picture #1).
I actually had to go through the booking process twice. 1st time the transaction did not go through entirely - I got only a Card Transaction confirmation. I think it had to do with me using Safari browser.
Not knowing anything about MegaBus procedure, I presumed it was OK, but when few days later I still had not gotten any Reservation confirmation and my inquiry e-mails remained unanswered, I did it all over again. This time I received both: Card Transaction confirmation and Reservation confirmation in my e-mail. That is how it is supposed to be.
I ended up being billed twice and it took me 10 days to finally speak with someone who promised to refund me the money. First few times when I called, agents were not able to help me, were quite indifferent and kept telling I must speak with a manager (whom I never had a pleasure to talk to). I also was on hold for 50 minutes once and then redirected to a voice mail!!! :((((((((
Payed $40.50 for return ticket Chicago-Detroit (bought 15 days in advance). Greyhound bus would of cost me $30 more.
Official duration of my trip was 5h 40min. It was exactly that much on the way to Detroit but on the way back it actually took 6 hours.
Buses were not new but pretty comfortable.
They were also late both times: 30 minutes late in Chicago and 5 in Detroit.
I booked a return trip from Chicago to Ann Arbor on megabus. on the 11th. of August I was actually going to Toronto, Canada but I thought it a good idea to take the bus half-way and drive a rental car the remainder. I booked on-line a month in advance & printed my ticket and was delighted that the return fare was only $28. The bus left Chicago Union Station right on time despite a heated quarrel with a passenger whose luggage was refused because it was too big. That was the best half of the journey.
On the return journey I had my luggage loaded, and when I tried to board the bus the driver informed me that my reservation was not on the list (a piece of paper that he was holding in his hand). I showed him my ticket but that didn't matter as he insisted that my confirmation was not on his list. He said that I would have to call customer service and re-book. I had lost my cell phone in Canada & couldn't call. However there were 3 other passengers in the same situation desperately trying to reach customer service who were still on hold after 45 minutes. One couple had to hook up in Chicago with a connecting train to Jackson, Mississippi. The other reject was a young girl who had a similar experience earlier in the day and had actually been re-assigned by customer service to this bus. After an unsuccessful hour of desperate tearful negotiating during which the passengers begged the driver to let us on the bus and I offered to pay anew (he couldn't accept payment), the driver unloaded our luggage and drove off leaving us stranded in a college parking lot in Ann Arbor. I am a senior citizen and I had never been in Ann Arbor before. I had no knowledge of the city but the young girl showed me where to find a city bus and after taking 2 buses I arrived at the Amtrak station 15 minutes before the last train left for Chicago. I arrived in Chicago at 11 P.M. where my friend who was meeting me had waited for 2 hours. The explanation that Megabus gave was that my reservation had been RELEASED. They didn't know how or by whom. It definitely wasn't by me as I had never called them before yesterday. They refunded me $28 and said they were sorry. That was very little re-imbursement for the nightmare I experienced. Never Again.
I have traveled Megabus a handful of times, mostly between Chicago and Minneapolis. My experiences have been varied. I have consistently found Megabus to be the cheapest option, and it scores points for convenience. Reservations can't be refunded, but they can be rescheduled for $1. I also think Megabus attracts a lower percentage of lowlife passengers than Greyhound, perhaps due to only online booking. As other reviewers mentioned, you trade some comforts for the lower price: there is no station to wait in, and without any support staff the loading and ticket checking is very slow. In my experience the bus almost always got a late start, though sometimes we made up the deficit en route.
I was satisfied with Megabus until my most recent trip on June 29, 2008, which I would like to describe in more detail. Half way from Minneapolis to Chicago, near Madison, we had a rest stop at a gas station. As we were leaving, the driver turned away from the curb too sharply, swinging the back of the bus into the building. An awning smashed one of the rear windows, luckily no one was hurt. The driver called in the accident and told us a replacement bus would arrive in 1.5 hours. When passengers asked for an update an hour later the driver told us he was not in contact with dispatch and we should call customer service. Once every half hour someone would call customer service and be assured that a bus was en route and would arrive in 20-30 minutes. This went on for 6 hours before a bus arrived. We arrived in Chicago 7 hours late. I was never offered a refund, or even an apology. This was, of course, an isolated incident and it is not my intent to smear Megabus. However, it did raise some questions for me. Does a Megabus driver receive the same level of training and have similar experience to a Greyhound driver? Given the atrocious management of our incident, can I be confident that Megabus headquarters is sufficiently prepared to handle a truly serious incident, for example an accident with injuries? I am inclined in the future to choose an alternative service, taking into consideration more factors than simply the lowest price.
If you buy tickets for 2 passengers:
EVEN THOUGH you get two confirmation numbers... 81/82####, they CANNOT change one reservation without the other. So, if you buy two tickets and one of you can't make it last minute... you are SCREWED. You can change both or just suck it up and pay double.
My wife and I used the Megabus to travel from Minneapolis to Chicago and back on the weekend of 4/25/08. The bus started 15 minutes late in Minneapolis and one hour and 15 minutes late in Chicago. No explainations were given. In Chicago, it was windy and 40 degrees. Union Station does not allow Megabus passengers to wait inside, so we waited in the cold. The driver on the Chicago to Mpls return trip ("W. Brown"), made the passengers load their own luggage (a real mess), played his personal music loud enough for all of us to hear throughout the trip, and drove one-handed for over an hour while he had a loud, profane phone conversation with a friend. Even though we were sitting 8 seats back on the upper deck, we could clearly hear the lyrics of his music and the content of his phone call. He also made two unscheduled stops, (a rest stop and a truck stop), where the passengers were kept on the bus. At these stops, he disappeared, offering no explaination. When we finally arrived in Minneapolis, he opened the door to the luggage compartment and stood back. Someone looked at the disorganized heap of bags piled in the luggage compartment and asked him, "how can I find my bag?" and his answer was, "ya gotta dig". One by one, the passengers crawled in and tried to find their bags. It took a considerable amount of time. If you really need to save money, Megabus is an option, but be prepared for terrible service, totaly disregard for the posted schedule, and crazy drivers.
We were with a tour group so we went by bus. From Toronto it took about 8 hours or so.
Last year on my way to Hong Kong, we stopped over at O'Hare International Airport, which is the busiest airport in the world. I really like this airport for it's architecture- the layout of it almost resembles a mini city.
I recommend flying in or using Grey Hound unless you REALLY want to drive in Chicago downtown traffic...O'hare is a great airport, and Midway is an often cheaper alternative. Cabs and limo service as well as hotel shuttles are readily available from either one.
Chicago has one of the world's best public transportation systems. Visitors can get a one day pass that will allow you unlimited bus rides around the city. That's definately the best way to go.
On the 11 trips me and my friend have accumulated, one was 3 hours late to the destination and another was 5 hours late. Both were due to mechanical problems with the bus. We contacted customer service and were promised a refund but after 5 more calls and a broken promise to us this has not yet happened.
Also do not expect the WiFi to work, despite what they say on their website.
Summed up: In our experience their customer service is crap, the buses are frequently late, and their promises mean nothing.
Greyhound is a bus system with more than 2,300 destinations around the US! Check their website for where you are in the states (or where you'll be), and you can travel from there to almost anywhere! Check out their deals and discounts for special deals.
If you enjoy being *** raped by anonymous forces that hide behind a thin veil of customer service than MEGABUS is for you. I am speaking particularly about the DC to Philly route, but it is all the same. And by the way, this company is a piece of ***.
I've taken the Megabus in the Northeast but not in the Midwest. It has been pretty good, much better than the Chinatown bus companies, and about comparable to Bolt Bus.
I used Megabus early March to get from Cincy to Chicago. It was fine getting there; unfortunately, on the way back we were met with a heavy snowstorm (it may have even been classified as a blizzard). This was the maiden voyage for our driver from Chicago to Cincinnati (she'd driven other routes but not this one). She was a complete professional! We arrived late downtown Cincinnati but we arrived in one piece.
It was a pretty good experience overall. I met several different types of people on the bus, from college students to a corporate exec who lives in Cincinnati and works in Chicago (uses the inexpensive Megabus as transport to & fro). Very interesting people, overall, and conversations with them helped to pass the time.
The only thing I found a bit disturbing was the attitude of the Union Station in Chicago. I meant to take photos (and I probably will this upcoming trip) of their posters put up at various entrance points basically making Megabus users feel profoundly unwelcome (see photo #4). Fortunately, I'm a rebel, said "posters be d****d" and camped out inside during the cold weather. :D
The stop for the Megabus is at the Main Entrance to Union Station across the street from the beautiful art deco entrance (see photos #2, #5)
I also just came back froma trip to St. Louis where I took the Megabus from Cincy to Chicago, then from Chicago to St. Louis and back the same way (well, only backwards).
They have 3 areas they cover:
Midwest - Chicago is the hub center with destinations as far north as Minneapolis/St Paul, as far west as Kansas City, Mo, as far south as Memphis, TN, and as far east as Cleveland, OH
Northeast - NYC is the hub center for this region and goes as far north & east as Boston, as far west as Toronto, ON, as far south as Baltimore, MD
West Coast - the hub center here seems to be LA and goes as far east as Vegas, as far north as Oakland (where I hail from), and as far south as San Diego/San Ysidro
The only problem with Megabus is that none of these regions intersect. For instance you can go as far north & east in the midwest to Cleveland but you won't be able to go from there to the North East to get to say, NYC.
Be forewarned: Union Station's luggage lockers are emptied at midnight! I called ahead of time to find out & because I wasn't staying overnight was forced to bring just a few things in a carryon bag (one I bought at the BHV in Paris - thanks, madaboutparis!)
Photos: May 14, 2008