Get on the Bus: $1 Tickets in the Midwest

If Greyhound and the Chinatown buses are still too expensive for your traveling budget, we’ve got a sweet ride for you.

Megabus, the British discount bus line, is open for business in the USA. Tickets from their base in Chicago to cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Minneapolis can run for as little as $1.00 each way, if you book far enough in advance. It goes up as you get closer to the departure day, but let’s face it, it’s still a bus fare. This isn’t flying first class to Australia.

And yeah, there’s a 50-cent reservation fee. So it’s really a $1.50 fare. The bus will burn that up in fuel as it idles, waiting for you to get onboard.

Megabus doesn’t have a terminal. They’ll pick you up and drop you off at a predetermined street corner. Classy. But for $1, you’re not buying class.

So, has anyone actually ridden the Megabus? Report! MARK ASHLEY

Bus line appeals to shoestring travelers with new routes [USA Today]
Would you take a $1 bus? [Jaunted]

Comments

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  1. LordSkippy says:

    Gas for only $1* a gallon!

    *Plus $3/gallon pump usage fee

    Let’s hope it doesn’t come true

  2. holocron says:

    I haven’t tried them personally, but I’ve heard decent reviews from a few people.

    I keep meaning to just give it a shot for $1.50 and see what the experience is. Maybe I’ll do that this weekend and report back.

  3. mantari says:

    I like the concept! But I’d be afraid of the clientele. Bus riders make me a little nervous to begin with. Add in a dose of riders that, say, would go to the dollar theater, and I’d fearing for my life!

    Some of you east coasters may not understand. But here in the Central US, the only reason you’d take a bus is if you are very poor, very old, or very young.

  4. klondikedog says:

    Actually, as a Midwesterner, I see the Mega Bus every morning. It picks riders up on a corner by my office, the riders look amazingly normal and well-groomed. Based on that alone it is better than Greyhound.

  5. acambras says:

    I’d try it.

  6. superlayne says:

    The fat bus-driver logo is cute, at least
    (ignoring the marring astric).

  7. zaq2g says:

    I live in Chicago and often go to Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Detriot and Toledo. Once in a while I’ll take the Megabus instead of driving and it’s pretty nice. Infinatley better and more civilized than taking the greyhound (I’ll never ride greyhound. Ever.).

    I prefer amtrak going to MI or OH, but you cant beat the price of megabus. For example, the most I ever paid for Megabus roundtrip was $32.50 round trip. The least I paid for amtrak was $44.

    Overall though, I still personally prefer driving, but megabus cant be beat pricewise

  8. timmus says:

    I have been waiting for decades to see a bus service that charges more than what Greyhound charges but offers a beverage cart, clean bathrooms, and doesn’t seem to attract all the dregs within 50 miles. Fortunately I think that day is getting closer.

    Back in the 1990s I rode a scheduled long distance bus in England and they were outstanding… beverage carts, clean bathrooms, polite service, and business clientele on board.

  9. not_seth_brundle says:

    I’ve taken it from Chicago to other cities in the midwest. I’ve never gotten a one-way ticket less than $20, though, and that’s not much less than Amtrak. Amtrak is much more comfortable.

    Some of the Megabuses I’ve taken have been really clean, and others… not so much. The passengers are mostly college-age kids and families, from what I could tell. Megabus seems to be late frequently (though probably not any worse than Amtrak) and it makes a long pit stop (about a half an hour) even on short trips, which annoys me.

  10. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    @mantari: I object! OK, so Utah is not exactly Central, but I ride the local bus transit system almost every day. (When I don’t, I’m commuting by bike.) I don’t fit into any of your stereotypes, and neither do many of the regular riders I know. And yes, I own a car.

    Anyway, I don’t mind spending a several extra minutes each day by taking a bus to work instead of the car. But I definitely wouldn’t use bus transit for a long-haul trip, where I would be giving up hours or days in a single trip vs. Southwest.

  11. ahwannabe says:

    Interesting that this is happening just as air travel is getting unbearable.

  12. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @mantari: Your comment reminds me of what happened in my city when Greyhound buses had to be temporarily re-routed to the airport because the bus/train station was being renovated. From day one there was an absolute flood of objections from airline passengers because they had to share the terminal with bus passengers. Nobody could ever come up with an actual incident of bad behavior or conflict, but there were still complaints, because the air travelers were white and middle-class and the bus riders were poor and black.

    I live in Michigan and there’s nothing wrong with the people who ride the buses here (either city or Greyhound). 90% of them are just trying to get someplace they need to go, and the other 10% are just trying to stay warm. If the bus passengers where you live routinely pull guns on each other, or deal drugs on the bus, then maybe you have grounds for your objections — otherwise, I think you’re hanging on to an unreasonable prejudice.

  13. How do they make money?

  14. Kbomb says:

    I’ve taken plenty of Greyhound Trips and plenty of Megabus trips. I don’t think the clientèle on either line is better or worse. As far as Megabus goes, I’ve used it a few times to go from Chicago to Minneapolis. Even two months in advance my tickets still cost $44, so the $1 seat is mostly a promotional stunt (though $44 is still cheaper than Greyhound). Of the four seperate Megabus rides I’ve taken, two were comfortable and clean. The other two were crowded, hot, noisey, and unfriendly. So its kind of a crap shoot, but if you’re not picky and need to get somewhere cheep, go for it.

  15. moniker42 says:

    I blogged this on gridskipper a year ago.

  16. boozecan says:

    I just took the megabus on a weekend getaway to Chicago from Detroit. The price for a round trip ticket for me was $16. I paid 15 for the way there, and the return was free.

    The bus itself was fine. We made it to Chicago on time with only one stop. There was 80 people who wanted to go to Chicago, so they sent 2 buses. It was roomy (as roomy as a bus can get) and the other passangers weren’t that bad. The trip back to Detroit was just as good, we made 2 stops, and arrived 10mins early.

    Over all I would highly recommend this bus service, but only if you book early enough to get the cheap seats.

  17. vkxmai says:

    I’ve ridden both Greyhound and Megabus from Cleveland to Chicago (and Greyhound from Cleveland to Cincinnati) and in my experience Megabus is much better. Greyhound, especially between Detroit/Columbus/Cleveland, is always a crap shoot. Sometimes the buses are clean and on schedule, other times the ride is like a cruel social experiment. I’d take Megabus Cleveland-Cincinnati in a heartbeat if there were such a route.

  18. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Well, unlike the Chinatown buses that run out of Boston (Fung Wah and Lucky Star), at least Megabus doesn’t have a reputation of wheels falling off or the bus catching fire.

    Yet.

    I’d try it once, anyway.

  19. ord2fra says:

    I don’t see a toll-free phone number on their bus. That means that to book, you need to be somewhat internet-savvy, which may explain why Megabus pax are not as scruffy as the ol’ dog.

    I took an overnight greyhound bus NYC-CHI in college… I thought for sure I’d be mugged.

  20. dantsea says:

    @mantari: Actually ride a bus some time; you’ll discover that anyone paying attention to you is likely doing so out of concern for the look of sheer panic and fright on your face. In my world, people ride the bus because they need to get from Point A to Point B, and would prefer to have as little to do with their fellow passengers as possible. It’s just transportation, get over it.

  21. oghelpme says:

    To quote my mom, someone who has ridden MegaBus:

    Can’t beat going to Milwaukee for a buck. I’ll do it again. Amtrak would have cost me about 40 bucks.

  22. dantsea says:

    In review, my comment of “get over it” to mantari read a little bit harsher than I meant it, and I apologize. But I still think you should try the bus some time. :)

  23. Her Grace says:

    For the record, flying first class to Australia from Chicago will run you $20272, according to my mother. Hi, Mom, doing your dirty Consumerist work for you again. Happy birthday.

  24. Helvetian says:

    If destination is under five hours, I do a bus otherwise it’s air. I can’t do a bus that long, even then sometimes airfares are cheaper. I would try MegaBus but not in my area. I agree with whoever said the fat bus driver logo is cute, it’s funny.

  25. muckpond says:

    i flew the megabus from chicago to indianapolis because the departure times were WAY better than amtrak. (the only amtrak service to chicago from indy leaves at 6am and the returning train arrives at 11:30pm.)

    lots of younger kids — a pretty good group really. don’t let the pictures fool you: they’re older buses with cool-looking new exteriors. we stopped once for food just north of indianapolis but the rest of the trip went fine.

    the worst part was at union station in chicago where they had BIG GIANT SIGNS that essentially said “stay outta our terminal, you megabus leeches.” they wouldn’t let anybody stand inside if they didn’t have a greyhound or amtrak ticket.

  26. medalian1 says:

    I used an aiport shuttle like this in NYC. They picked me up at a corner and we picked up more people at other corners before going to JFK. It was cheap and I’d probably give this a try too.

  27. Cap'n Jack says:

    …And then vote democrat in the next presidential election. :D

  28. @CumaeanSibyl: And it’s hardly a prejudice that’s limited to the ground-floor, either. For all that we have the Crappiest Public Transportation On Earth here in MI already, on top of that you have cities like Livonia (*spit*) which decided they were too rich and white to be part of the system, and opted out of the only major bus line that reaches them. (They’re about 15-20 minutes from Detroit by car, but that makes ‘em safe from everyone too poor to own a car! Go Whitey.)

    The lack of good public transportation contributes so much to racial segregation, poverty and blight around here, and yet nobody will touch the subject for fear of angering the once-mighty Big Three, who are now attempting to set a record for how fast they can ditch employees, screw retirees and abandon communities.

    Give us this bus! Give us any bus. Give us a real subway instead of our stupid “peoplemover” and you can have all the free crack you want! (Okay, that was in bad taste. ;)

  29. any such name says:

    wow. this is shockingly old news.

    anyway, friends of mine have taken it and paid anywhere from about $8 up to $40. yes, the more expensive fares are to be found taking Fri-Sun trips. said friend barely has a job, so hence his one $8 trip.
    things may have changed since he took it last, too, but i don’t think the busses have ever been near capacity even (certainly not on the weekday runs), and i think depending on traffic, it’s pretty fast (5 1/2 hour drive from chicago to cleveland).

  30. bedpan says:

    I’ve ridden this bus many a time from Chicago to Cleveland. I’ve paid anywhere from $4 to $25, but it’s still way cheaper than flying. Also, the bus leaves Chicago at about 9am, so you just get on, sleep until the lunch break, grab some rest stop food, then read magazines the rest of the way. easy peasy. It’s definitely never been at capacity, and on “off weekends,” meaning not holidays, I generally have had 2 seats to myself, making for a nice ride all around. Definitely WAY better than greyhound.

  31. ab13743 says:

    When I lived in Europe I used Megabus a few times in Scotland. All reservations were either done online or at the bus station to cut down costs. Although I only went on short jaunts (less than 2 hours) it was as comfortable and clean as I would expect.

    It is amazing to me in Europe where most people don’t have cars or drive them long distance, how much cheaper can be to get from place to place on public transportation. If Easyjet would only come stateside.

  32. synergy says:

    I don’t know where some of the previous commenters have ridden, but anytime I’ve ridden Greyhound I’ve not been accosted, threatened, or (obviously) kidnapped/murdered. Yeah there’s poor people on the bus, but so what? Just because you’re poor doesn’t make you a criminal. The vast majority aren’t. Aside from not wanting to get squeezed into the window by some really obese person, I don’t mind riding Greyhound. Everyone minds their own business and the ride is cheap.

  33. aparsons says:

    This service is probably subsidized by Kansas and Missouri. As a person who currently lives in the Midwest, I can tell you that you pretty much have to pay people to come here and live here.

  34. videocrime says:

    @aparsons : yo. people come from all around to see our Arch, our Windy City and our “home of Superman.” Don’t be hatin’.