Megabus takes ride to L.A. to a 'higher level'


Let's be honest: For most of us, spending a day on an intercity bus - say, between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and then back - falls somewhere on the fun meter between traffic school and a colonoscopy.

Unless you get your jollies sitting in a cramped, uncomfortable seat next to someone who talks nonstop on his or her cellphone while a bus with suspect shocks seems to catch every pothole and patch of rehab asphalt on the freeway, you'd sooner fly.

Or drive.

Or walk.

Suffice to say the Road Warrior wasn't looking forward to - read: dreading - his assignment of testing the new Megabus and its promotional $1 fare run.

Some 10-plus hours on a bus, round trip? The Road Warrior thought about slicing open his neck while shaving in the predawn hours Tuesday and calling in dead to work.

But he sucked it up. And while he won't go so far as to say he was happy he did, he will say he was glad he did.

Megabus has found the key to expedient, safe and sane travel when airfare is too expensive and taking one's car might not be the most workable means of going to and from L.A.

The company rebooted its service between the two cities Dec. 12, and for the first week passengers could purchase one-way fares online for $1. That's $2 for almost 600 miles of round-trip transit.

Megabus briefly tried a transdesert route in 2007, but surrendered it a year later when ridership proved low. It's now trying to revive the market between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with $750,000 Belgian-made double-decker buses that feature 81 cloth seats, a pair of card tables on the first level and Wi-Fi access and power outlets throughout.

It's been awhile since the Road Warrior took the "old Grey dog," but it would be difficult to believe that Megabus isn't the new lead pooch in the long-haul passenger transit market with service into, out of and around California.

While Megabus routes between Los Angeles and Las Vegas are touted as taking less than six hours, the Road Warrior's two drivers - Erick going out and Scott coming back - made their trips Tuesday in just more than five hours. That was with respective four- and six-minute stops in Riverside to pick up and drop off a few passengers. Megabus is nothing if not punctual.

(There also was a half-hour, fast-food dinner stop in Barstow on the way back that the Road Warrior is not including in overall ride time.)

There were 40 passengers heading to Los Angeles and 46 on the way back, although 77 tickets were sold coming to Las Vegas. "People snapped them up real quick because of the price," Scott said, "figuring if they couldn't use them it was no big deal since they'd only be out a dollar."

Of the two rides, the one to Los Angeles, through a driving rain for much of the way, was smoother. The Road Warrior sat in the bottom level, and the sleek, blue bus felt as if it was gliding on a rail all the way to L.A.'s Union Station.

Heading back, he sat in the upper level, recalling that old high school physics lesson about heat rising as nighttime temperatures on the high plains quickly dipped into the upper 30s. Admittedly, the return ride was a little rougher as the top swayed in winds in the 30 mph range.

In addition to the numerous visual amenities of Megabus, the Road Warrior was caught by several things he heard.

The first was on a pretrip video, where riders were asked to "Keep conversation, cellphone use, laughter and entertainment devices to a courteous volume" - and everyone, both ways, complied.

The second came at the end of the obligatory "Thank you for riding with us" that driver Erick offered as he wheeled up to the curb at Union Station's Patsaouras Transit Plaza: "... If it wasn't for you folks, I wouldn't be able to do this."

A nice, heartfelt touch.

Of course, no ride, no bus is perfect.

The trip down was a little chilly, even with a jacket, and to take nitpicking to a new level, the Road Warrior overheard a couple of female passengers talking about how difficult it was to get toilet paper out of the dispenser in the restroom in the back of the bus. (The Road Warrior checked and they were correct, but tissue-picking is nitpicking in his book.)

If the Road Warrior were to nitpick, it's that the seats should be a little wider for those of us who are weight-challenged. But he knows that by the time you take into account four seats across for wide bottoms and what is needed for an aisle, the bus' reconfigured width would put it halfway into the adjacent lane.

Seat width certainly was of no concern for the fit couple of Austin Hewlett, 26, and Kelly Caaya, 23, who, while visiting Las Vegas, decided to take advantage of the cheap bus fare to make a quick trip to L.A. and back for a half-day of sightseeing.

"It was Greyhound," Hewlett said, referencing the nation's largest bus service, "but taken to a much higher level."

"It was clean" - "It was awesome," Caaya chimed in - "and the driver was 10 times better than any Greyhound bus driver I've ever had drive me. And I've been driven by quite a few."

In fact, everyone the Road Warrior chatted with down and back came away impressed by the Megabus experience. Most said they would use it again, even with fares going up to as much as $25 one way, depending upon the day of the week.

As for the Road Warrior, he'll always prefer to drive; that's just his nature. But if taking a bus to Los Angeles becomes necessary and Megabus upholds its opening-week approach to cleanliness, courtesy and customer service, he won't feel compelled to hold a straight-edge too close to his throat.

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Megabus makes four runs to Los Angeles and four runs from L.A. to Las Vegas each day, with stops both ways in Riverside, if needed. Departures and arrivals are at Bay 9 of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada's South Strip Transfer Terminal on Gilespie Street. Daily rates based on demand and new promotional offers can be found at megabus.com.

Questions and comments should be sent to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number. Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter: @RJroadwarrior.

 

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