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Economy / Business

Megabus Arrives, Bringing Bargain Fares

It's now possible to get to Orlando or Miami from Tampa for less than it costs to drive with the arrival of a new  inter-city bus service called Megabus.  To celebrate its arrival in Tampa, the company has been offering $1 fares during the first two weeks. That drew a crowd to the Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa recently, and WUSF was there to see what the new bus service was like.

Forty-two people trickled up to the bus stop starting before 9 a.m. for the first MegaBus ride to Miami at 9:15 on a big blue double-decker bus with outlets and Wi-Fi. They paid a dollar each way, plus $1.50 reservation fee.    

One of those waiting, Emma Brito from Town and Country, said she'd been on a train but never on a public bus before.

Credit Yoselis Ramos / WUSF
Mary Ellen Ahrens (far left) and her friends headed to Miami for the day since it only cost them a dollar for the fare plus the reservation fee.

"Well, we already made another reservation through the Internet apart from this one without even trying it," Brito said. "I think it will go well."

Brito especially liked the price.

"The fare costs you a dollar and for two people we’re paying $5.50 which is the contrary if we go in our car," she said. "Gas is very expensive, so this saves us more money. We can do more trips."

I joined a smaller group of people in the afternoon who were headed to Orlando. Tampa resident Stacy Ward was there to try it out.

"I just came for the ride because I wanted to experience it," Ward said. "It was something that drew my attention when I saw the news report, I couldn't help it.  It was something I wanted to do."

Ward said the best part of the ride was "being on the second floor, the skyline and the people."

The buses come with outlets under every seat to charge up electronics, Wi-Fi, a bathroom, a couple of tables on the first floor and a skylight view on the second. There's room for your feet, the seats are comfortable enough and only one other passenger can sit next to you.

For the first two introductory weeks, all fares were a dollar. As of today, the pricing is done on a yield system like airfares. There is always at least one $1 seat on every bus, but getting it depends on when the reservation is made and how full the bus gets. Prices do reach a cap, around $20 for a trip to Miami.

 "Our pricing makes it possible to be spontaneous, and you can actually enjoy life," said Megabus.com's Vice President of Marketing Mike Alvich.

"Airfares are going up, gas is going up, everywhere prices are going up around people, and people seem to be working harder nowadays just to stay in place, and Americans love to travel," Alvich said. "What Megabus.com does is actually make it possible for people to do the things they love and they don’t have to spend it on the transportation to get there."

The price was the reason 82-year-old Winter Haven resident Mary Ellen Ahrens boarded the Megabus.

"I saw where we could go to Miami for a buck, and who wants to be frugal, you know?" She said she called five of her friends to join her and they all went to Miami for the day.

"So we're leaving here, we're going to the Miami International Airport. We're going to eat lunch, bum around for a couple of hours, catch the bus back and get back at 9 o' clock tonight, now how exciting can that be?"

But like other transit options, there are disadvantages. The Orlando bus I boarded that day was an hour late to arrive, leaving no time to venture into Orlando before having to hop on the return bus. The Wi-Fi? Too many people connected at once, making it slow or almost impossible to log on.

Even so, Alvich remains positive. He expects 142,000 travelers to come through Tampa in the first year of this new service.

"We think that's good for the economy of the city. These folks come in and they spend money on restaurants, on stores, in cultural locations and attractions," he said.

Megabus has services in 120 cities and that's one of the reasons Ward said she'll ride again. "I also want to try to travel across the states, different states trying to get the dollar deals so I will be back."

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