Friday, January 11, 2013

A Mega Review

So I posted last month about Megabus' recent triumphant return to Southern California. Last week, I had a chance to ride said bus to Las Vegas and back, and I figured I'd post a review on it.

Megabus' California/Nevada fleet is composed of VanHool double-decker TD925's, although I'm not sure yet how many. These coaches seat 81, with Megabus selling 77 revenue seats per trip. They're equipped with relatively comfortable reclining seats, a restroom (of the typical intercity bus variety), two doors and stairwells, and a rear luggage compartment. Because the bus is a double-decker, there are no overhead luggage bins-- carry-on items have to fit under your seat. Each passenger is allowed one carry-on and one checked item, although I saw the staff bend this rule a few times.

I boarded the 01:30 bus out of Riverside-- at least a little hesitant about waiting for a bus at the downtown Metrolink at 01:30 in the morning. The bus was around 10m late, but the boarding process was smooth and well-organized, with three Megabus crew members emerging from the bus and assisting passengers. One checked reservations, while the other two handled bags. I always travel with only a carry-on, and although Megabus' web site says that bags near the airline's maximum allowed carry-on size may be carried as checked luggage, I was able to fit mine under my seat without difficulty. Sitting on the upper deck, I was treated to the pleasant surprise of a full-bus sun roof. The windows in the front of the upper deck are also large, affording an excellent view of... well... I-15. And, at the time, I-15 at night. The only minor annoyance of the boarding process was a ~10m video, played after we departed, explaining safety features and how to connect to the on-board Wi-Fi. At nearly 2am, the last thing I wanted was a perky Megabus lady telling me to buckle up, but it didn't last long. I promptly reclined my seat and slept the entire ride-- I woke up to an early arrival in Las Vegas.

On the ride back, I had a little more time to actually check out the features of the bus and terminal. The South Strip Transfer Terminal, where Megabus arrives in Vegas, is the southern of RTC's two local bus terminals. It is also the platonic ideal of what a bus terminal should look like. There are snack and drink machines, transit information (including real-time arrivals) and ticket vending, clean restrooms, chairs and tables, and power outlets. Most of this was inside a large, indoor waiting room, which was really helpful when the desert chill struck. I was surprised to see this terminal in a city like Las Vegas, which isn't really known for its transit system. It may be the nicest local bus station I've ever been in.

When the time came for the Megabus, the boarding process was again well-managed. The bus arrived nearly half an hour late, which made waiting in the cold a bit unpleasant, and which was really strange, considering that Las Vegas is the terminal station on the route. When we did board the bus, it was maybe 3/4 full, and I had a row to myself. I tried out the free wi-fi, and tried to find the advertised power outlets. That's easier said than done-- they're poorly marked and in an odd location. You'll find them between the seats in the row, slightly below the seat itself. There is one for each passenger on the bus. Some rows, such as the rear ones, have the outlets overhead. Once the outlets were found, power was reliable and not enough to upset my tablet's delicate sensibilities. I also tried the free Wi-fi, which is a cellular-based system. This means exactly what you might think-- you'll get reasonably good service in populated areas, and very little out on the Interstate. It was okayish in Vegas (although sluggish with everyone connecting at once), dead from Primm to Barstow, and basically correlated with population density from there on in. I spent most of the ride reading.

We arrived in Riverside at around 7:15, around 15m behind schedule. This brings me to the next thing I love about Megabus-- at least in California, their stops integrate closely with the local transit system. In Los Angeles, the buses stop at Union station. In Riverside, they stop at the Metrolink. In Oakland, it's the West Oakland BART. In San Jose, Diridon station. In San Francisco, it's the 4th/King Caltrain station. Megabus serves car-free customers as well as they serve their automobile bretheren.

The only real downside of Megabus service in Riverside, aside from minor schedule adherence issues (which I'm sure will be fixed in their next timetable), is the limitation on destinations. From Riverside, you can only travel to Las Vegas. I understand why they limit Riverside-LA traffic, so as to avoid clogging seats with commuters, but I would love to see the possibility of through-ticketing Riverside-San Francisco via Los Angeles. (This could be because I find Vegas kind of meh and really love San Francisco.) You can, of course, take several transit options to LA (RTA/Foothill, Metrolink, Amtrak) and Megabus to SF, but through ticketing would open up more options and schedule flexibility. Oakland and San Jose are in the same place as Riverside vis-a-vis Sacramento and Reno service.

That said, if you're heading to Vegas or the Bay Area, I strongly recommend Megabus-- and, if you watch closely and book well in advance, you too might get a trip to Vegas for $2.50.

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