Saturday, August 16, 2008

Megabus megasucks; just take NJ Transit or Chinatown buses

[Welcome to readers of the essential site The Consumerist, which was kind enough to link to this post.]

My girlfriend and I took a daytrip to NYC yesterday. We tried the Megabus for the first time, which for me will also be the last. The story starts off bad and progresses toward criminal. I'm posting this as a warning to others; caveat emptor.

We booked our two tickets for $13 roundtrip more than three weeks earlier, which is about $7 cheaper than the Chinatown buses would be. The concept is that the earlier you book, the cheaper the fare will be. And that's great - but only if you actually get on the damn bus.

Her debit card was charged and we received reservation numbers to print out for the outgoing and return trips (we're in Philadelphia for anyone who happens across this post). The word on the sheet is "reservation," which means we should have an expectation to have seats when we show up in the version of English I speak.

There are two embarkation points in the city, 30th & Market loads first and 6th & Market second. I live much closer to 6th, but we got up earlier to make the 8:30am bus leaving from 30th to ensure we could travel with friends with reservations on the same bus.

Arriving on time, the driver looked at his list of reservation numbers and told us that he would not allow us on the bus because the bus would be full after picking people up at 6th & Market, thus we were "on standby." I guess buses overbook like the airlines now, and are borrowing their language now too. There's nothing on our reservation sheet that suggests "standby" as a possibility, and nothing on the Megabus site which suggests that "standby" is an option even if you wanted it to be for some bizarre reason.

I asked the driver, who looked like he didn't want to deal with us, what "reservation" means to Megabus. He kept repeating that we "weren't on his list" although we showed up at the time and place indicated on the reservation sheet, therefore we weren't allowed on the bus. At one point he said that we were "on standby probably because [we] waited 'til the last minute" to book. We took some offense at this suggestion that this was our fault, and pointed out we had a "reservation" for damn near a month, which incidentally Megabus should be able to calculate from our price...

This is where the story takes a Lewis Carroll turn. The driver claimed that we could ride if two people with reservations didn't show up at 6th & Market... but we weren't allowed to ride with him to 6th, even though the bus was only half full! We would be allowed to ride the bus we had reservations for only if we could beat him to 6th & Market on the subway (retracing the route we took to get to 30th incidentally) or in a cab, and if once we got there two seats which were booked went untaken. He wasn't going to wait for us there, either. This man just didn't want us on the bus.

I asked him for a contact number for Megabus, and he said he didn't have one.

The driver was wearing a 76 Carriage Company uniform and the bus had registration info from 76 painted on the side. 76 is the 900 pound gorilla of overpriced Philadephia bus/"trolley" and horse-drawn carriage tours. I asked him for their phone number and he claimed not to have one of those either. Now this jackass was lying to us.

At this point I asked what number he would call if he were in an accident, or how he could possibly not have a phone number for the company for which he works. This caused the driver to stop interacting with us and he got on the bus and started the engine.

We had enough time for our friends with tickets to stick their heads out of the bus door to try and hammer out a plan for the day. Would they ride the bus and we find another way up to NY? Would all four of us stay home, or ride the train or another bus line and eat the four tickets? We decided that they would go up on the bus and we would call them once we figured out if/how we were getting to NY, how late we would be, how many of our plans would be screwed and how much more it would cost/if it were all worth it.

The bus left us stranded at 30th St.

I called the 877 toll free Megabus number listed with 800 information. Calling that number - the one listed on the Megabus site - I got a recorded message stating that "information pertaining to this number has changed." If I wanted the number, "say yes." I said yes, and it sent me a text (for which I get charged by my carrier). This is the text message verbatim, from 23333:

"Reply Y now to get info on the # you are trying to reach. Locator Svc $9.99/month + std msg fees for 20 lookups/month.

Well, screw that. I called local information (which costs me) and got the number for 76. The first woman I spoke with claimed to have nothing to do with Megabus. She put me through to a dispatcher at my repeated insistence who sounded largely apologetic, was very professional but repeatedly claimed that 76 has nothing to do with booking Megabus. They registered and staffed the vehicle, but accept no responsibility for anything to do with ticketing, and can't answer any reservation questions. I would "have to talk with Megabus." I repeated that it was impossible for me to speak with Megabus, relating the above.

I suppose this all falls under the absurd catch-all excuse on the portion of the Megabus site titled "Terms and Conditions":


This information published on the web site is provided as a convenience to visitors and should be used for information purposes only and is subject to change without notice. While uses all reasonable efforts to ensure that the information contained on its web site is current, accurate and complete at the date of publication, no representations or warranties are made (express or implied) as to the reliability, accuracy or completeness of such information. Neither, nor Independent Bus Company can therefore be held liable for any loss arising directly or indirectly from the use of, or any action taken in reliance on, any information appearing on this web site."

The dispatcher apologized for the driver's claim that he didn't know how I could call anyone. He offered to send a 76 shuttle that they usually use for hotel guests to get us to 6th & Market, and promised to call the driver's cell phone to hold the bus until we could get there. He repeated, however, that we still weren't getting on the bus if there weren't two empty seats after they filled up at 6th. This is the best deal I could swing after having a several-minute argument with 76 about what the word "reservation" means.

This, of course, also meant that a whole bus of people had to sit at 6th & Market for no reason. The bus driver, we learned from our friends on the bus, led people to believe that we were the hold-up!

We figured that if nothing else, we could get taken back home or closer to home on 76's dime if this didn't pan out. The shuttle driver was polite and professional.

As it turns out, there were about five empty seats. We rode that bus to NY, leaving about 20 minutes late. Had the bus been full or just had one seat open, our day - a day that a few people took off from work to enjoy, having booked the trip a month earlier - would have been shot. We also had to jaw at a few fellow passengers who were led to believe that we were somehow making them late.

We had no problem with our reservation on the return trip last night, but the bus to Philadelphia was about a third empty. It left NY15 minutes late, and the Megabus employee on site was preemptively suggesting that it might be as much as an hour late so we shouldn't get our hopes up for leaving on time.

I counterrecommend riding the Megabus. There are plenty of other more reliable cheap transport options in these parts, and apparently you don't so much buy a bus ticket with them as you do a sort of lottery ticket to make yourself eligible for a seat.
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Anonymous said...

How about you stop bitching and just drive to NYC?...your doing five nights a week now, I think you can afford the extra $20 bucks in gas...Wah, Wah, Wah...

Dave of W said...

Life imitates art imitates life. This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode about the car "reservation".

QuizMasterChris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
QuizMasterChris said...

Anonymous -

Obviously I'm posting this as a warning to others who might not have that option, which is why I also emailed the link to the Consumerist.

Also, do you seriously think that driving to NY and parking in midtown is an attractive and cost-effective option?

I swear that if I posted something criticizing Hitler, someone would take Hitler's side...

Al Iverson said...

Yeah, driving is for suckers. Bus/train is the way to go. Why would you drive into Manhattan, that'd be nuts.

I somewhat reluctantly continue to ride Megabus after my experience with it breaking down.

BTW I don't know if Megabus out there is run by the same people as Megabus in Chicago. If so, try complaining to this guy:

Matthew Eggert
Direct - 773-890-2040
Fax - 773-533-7446
Email: Matt.Eggert

There is no such thing as standby on Megabus -- that driver was just completely, utterly wrong. I've ridden it enough now to know that he must clearly be an idiot.

Of course, Greyhound sucks, too, so that's not really an option for me.

Mike Kania said...

I've been using Bolt Bus to get up to NYC every Friday for the past couple of months, and I've found it to be pretty reliable at about the same price point as MegaBus. Had a couple of busses back from NYC show up late at the pickup point, but I think midtown traffic on Friday afternoon is mostly to blame for that.

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