When Megabus instituted inexpensive transit service between Athens and Atlanta, I wrote a laudatory review. Wow, a bus with a schedule that allowed folks like me, who live in Athens but work in Atlanta, to put in a full day's work. I rode with an architect and met a law student who was clerking for a law firm. Many passengers—former captives of the airport shuttle monopoly—were en route to the airport. At last, I thought, private-sector mass transit that doesn't just talk the talk, it walks the walk.
No more. As the transit provider of last resort, Megabus appears to have decided that it can treat its customers with utter disdain, not to say abuse. The schedule is a joke—delays of two hours or more are routine. You can pay for automated updates via email or instant message, but they don't send them. The promised 8 a.m. arrival turns into 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. So much for that day in the office.
Let's be clear: I'm inconvenienced. I'm late for work. But the sky will not fall if I don't make it. Contrast this with the girl catching a plane home to China. The flight's at noon, so an 8 a.m. departure should allow plenty of time, right? Not with a two-hour delay: the ripple effect could strand her at Hartsfield-Jackson for a day or more.
Photo Credit: Betsy Dorminey
More to the point is the woman traveling with five children. Megabus uses a UGA stop on weekends when, for reasons that may kindly be described as opaque, Athens-Clarke County finds it necessary to close the open-air bus shed at the Pseudo-Multi-Modal transit center inconveniently located in a pedestrian no-man's-land derrière downtown. Megabus failed to communicate this change of venue to this party of six, so they missed the Sunday bus. Megabus made them purchase new tickets and scheduled a Tuesday journey. Originally, the fare was $10 per person. With the repurchase, it is $40; times six, $240. Sounds quite literally like highway robbery to me.
This presto-changeo station thing has happened to me, too. But I'm better armed to fight back. I can buckle on my Buckhead Bitch lawyer armor, give the supervisor what-for on the phone and get a refund. This lady got the brush-off, not to use more pungent language. I missed a day in the office. She's out $240, plus two days of her and her family's life.
I want to believe in the free market. I really do. But shenanigans like this cause doubt. Megabus should be driven out of business, but the folks at the bottom of the economic ladder lack the means to give chase. The car-less person is at the mercy of lousy service providers, because there's no alternative. Maybe services like Uber can fill this gap, but I doubt that will help my fellow traveler get back to Durham, NC, any faster.
Piedmont Airlines' informal motto used to be, "It's us or the bus." What do we do when the bus poops out?