7 Jul 2009 10:27 pm   //   Filed under: Transit, Travel

Life lessons on the Megabus


There are at least two constants when you take a long-distance bus. You always arrive at your destination late. And you always have to witness people yelling at one another. The way to cope is to sit down, shut down, go limp, be invisible, and let the bus beat up on your spirit for however many hours it takes.

My latest transportation adventure was a round-trip ride on Coach USA’s Megabus from New York to Washington, D.C. Along with Greyhound’s BoltBus, Megabus is one of a several ultra-cheap scheduled buses that recently started plying I-95. The first few tickets on each bus are $1 or $3. My tickets were $18 each way.


The biggest problem with any bus between New York and D.C. is the highways. Our bus was due in at 8 p.m. Sunday; because of congestion it didn’t arrive until 10. The best advertising Amtrak ever dreamed up was operating its trains on tracks parallel to New York Avenue in D.C. As buses sit in gridlock, electric trains rush past at 80 miles per hour.


The Mega and the Bolt aren’t the first cheap buses on these routes. They compete with the Chinatown buses, which are notoriously disorganized (see above). China-Mega-Bolt buses save a few bucks over the legacy Greyhound-Peter Pan services by eschewing bus stations. They just pick you up and drop you off on the street. Most bus stations are so unpleasant that any alternative—including hanging around for an hour on the sidewalk—is usually better.

The Mega and the Bolt are a small step above the Chinatown buses. They claim to have WiFi on board (which I did not test). They sell all their tickets in advance online. As long as you show up on time, you are guaranteed a seat. Staff at the bus stops provide information and keep lines orderly.

However, the bus attendant in D.C. decided he would play head games with the waiting passengers. He asked us to form a line. Then he proceeded to board the bus from the end of the line first. He was surly in explaining his strategy, griping that he was only getting $6 an hour and his only task was to board the bus as quickly as possible. Three people at the front of the line staged a coup and forced their way onto the bus first. People yelling? Check.


I chose the Megabus over the Bolt Bus for one reason. I was intrigued by the design of the bus itself. It’s one of the only double-decker coach buses I’ve ever seen in the U.S. It’s the tallest thing on the highway. If you’re lucky (as I was on both legs of my trip), you can claim one of the four front seats on the top level of the bus, which provides a commanding view of the highways out the front windshield. I was looking down on the roofs of other buses.


I often marvel at how lush the roadsides are in Maryland. It’s like the plants are fighting to win back the space claimed by asphalt. Lounging in a catatonic state from my captain’s chair atop the Megabus, I imagined the B-W Parkway left un-mowed. How long would it take for the plants to overspread the highway? I pictured the vines and shrubs creeping to the edge of the road, then crossing the painted lines, the stitching up a field of green like a healing wound. Greenery so thick not even the Megabus could penetrate it.