Megabus: Like a Cruise Ship on Land

To avoid the indignities and environmental nightmare that is flying I prefer to travel by train or bus. When visiting San Francisco to see our relatives I take Amtrak’s San Joaquin train because you can take a bicycle without having to put it in a box. But on my most recent trip, since I was not bringing the bike, I decided to give Megabus a try.

You catch the Megabus in Los Angeles’s calving ground for buses, the Patsaouras Transit Plaza, on the eastern fringe of Union Station. You check in, your baggage gets placed in the luggage compartment and the driver welcomes you to your WiFi enabled leviathan on wheels.

The seat had adequate legroom for my 6’2″ carcass, much more than an airplane but slightly less than Amtrak. I didn’t test the WiFi, preferring instead to use my 8 1/2 hour travel time tackling Matthew Crawford’s anti-Kant rant, The World Outside Your Head (review forthcoming). The bathroom was clean and as pleasant as any bus bathroom can aspire to. The bus was near capacity but I was able to claim a row for myself. I suspect there would be more room on a weekday. Note that there is no overhead storage so you have to check your baggage.

The LA to SF route makes a brief stop in Burbank to pick up passengers and then, three hours later, you get a rest stop in the very liminal Kettleman City. The half hour stop gives you a chance to grab a road burrito and other convenience store delicacies or check out the bizarre architecture of Bravo Farms (not actually a farm). From there you travel through scenic Gilroy and make a stop in San Jose and Oakland before being deposited at the San Francisco CalTrain station. It was a quiet, uneventful and pleasant trip. If you reserve ahead you can get the top row of seats up front that have a panoramic view.

The chief reason to take the Megabus, in addition to avoiding the CO2 sins of air travel, is price. My trip cost $9.99 plus a $2.50 booking fee (one way). I’ve found tickets as low as $4.99. Megabus is usually cheaper than Amtrak and Greyhound. There’s a similar, low priced competitor FlixBus that I will try the next time I go up to San Francisco (if you’ve traveled via FlixBus please leave a comment). There’s also an overnight luxury sleeper bus called Cabin between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But since I can’t sleep on moving vehicles of any kind the roughly $100 Cabin experience would be a waste for me.

I wholeheartedly endorse bus or train travel over air travel especially for relatively short and medium distance intercity travel. Yes it takes longer but there’s no security hassle and you arrive relaxed and knowing much more about the problems with Kant’s categorical imperative.

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12 Comments

  1. My family took the same trip, but the red-eye, $1 going to SF, and regular price (at that time) coming back to LA.

    This was about 5 years ago. What I liked about it was there were 2 drivers. And they switched at Kettleman City, half-way. Felt safer with 2 drivers. I’m not sure if they still have 2 drivers, but I remember at least for the trip to SF the 2 drivers were talking pretty much the whole way up. I especially liked their drop off at SF near AT&T/Giants stadium.

    Not so sure going back to LA, as we were best and slept the whole way thru to LA.

    Having two drivers seems redundant but greatly alleviated my fears of drivers dozing off.

  2. Could I get garlic in Gilroy? I cannot seem to find it here. Oh, the bus does not stop there?

    The last time I rode a bus was July 2, 1970. There was nothing luxurious, more like a school bus. But, the bus ride was with a two-year-old all over me and induced labor for me.

    What do you do with a bike on a bus without a box?

  3. Sorry, but I will never forgive Megabus for an incident with four fatalities that happened here in Syracuse in 2010–which turned out to be a tragedy for all concerned, including the driver and his family (https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2015/03/syracuse_megabus_driver_whose_wrong_turn_killed_four_people_has_died.html). Go ahead and tell me my judgment is biased by this one incident, which it is. But think long and hard anyway about taking Megabus in the future.

    • I’m familiar with these low bridges in New England. but since moving here to Socal, I have yet to see one.

      But I have heard about bus crashes on freeways and tour buses that veer off mountain sides, mostly due to distracted driving and sleepiness.

      I think though if you break it down, statistically road travel is more unsafe, then it’s rail , then lastly its air travel. But if you rate by levels of absurdities in security procedures and overall stress,

      i’d probably go with rail, then road, then very low on the totem pole for me is air travel (its been a very long time since i’ve flown, and i’d like to keep it that way).

      But the route for LA to SF is very safe maybe with the exception of Oakland which we passed around 3am, with lots of police activity we noticed, before proceeding to SF.

      But no low bridges at all. Good to know about though, if we ever take megabus , we’re staying on the 1st level.

    • A very sad story. I looked up the safety statistics for transportation in this country. Here’s what I found:
      Driving: 7.3 fatalities per billion passenger-miles
      Motorcycle: 212 per billion passenger miles
      Train: .15 per billion passenger miles
      Bus: .11 fatalities per billion miles
      Aviation: .07 fatalities per billion passenger miles
      Aviation is the safest. Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous. Buses are slightly safer than trains perhaps because of a few bad train accidents in the past few years. I’ll take the safety of bus or train travel over driving any day. You can read more here: https://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/transportation/comparing-fatality-risks-united-states-transportation-across-modes-time

    • I’m not an opponent of bus travel in general. Quite the contrary: I’m a 45-year veteran of travel by Greyhound, and continue to use the combined Greyhound/Trailways service between Syracuse and NYC to this day (it beats both the air and train services six ways to Sunday). My beef is purely with Megabus.

  4. My daughter and three grandsons live in Tacoma, WA and I live in Pennsylvania. Bus or rail take over 72 hours and I’ve heard there are often major delays with rail because Amtrak has to defer to the freight trains. Rail is very expensive when sleepcars and food are considered. Not sure I could tolerate 72 hrs. on a bus. Any suggestions? I am very troubled by the carbon effects of air travel.

    • I took the train to Chicago a few years ago from Los Angeles. Sleeper one way and coach on the way back. Sleeper was definitely worth it though I figured out how to sleep on the floor of the observation car on the way back (the very nice Amtrak employees looked the other way). Yes it was expensive, but it sure was a beautiful ride. Cost was comparable to driving and getting hotel rooms so that’s another way to think about it. It was a lot of fun to chit chat with strangers over meals in the dining car and, again, the Amtrak conductors and porters were really great. You should try it at least once in your life just to see the scenery.

  5. Great to hear you had a nice experience with MB. I feel like I never have such luck with them!! I usually wind up paying way more in time and stress than it’s worth. I did actually take a Flixbus from SF to LA and it was really nice, on time and price is obviously at a great rate. I was really surprised the wifi was so fast, like faster than my home wifi. Nice selection of movies/tv shows too, really helps pass the time. Curious to see if you have a similar ride with them if you do end up taking them.

  6. I’ve taken FlixBus twice. Once in Europe (London to Paris), once in the US (Reno to Sacramento). I’ve had great experiences with both but I was very impressed by the US service (the bus had green mood lighting)! The stops were easy to get to and it was nice letting someone else do the driving. I too can not sleep during transit (no, not even during a flight) so I appreciated the wifi and power outlets FlixBus offered. The buses were clean, new, and had spacious legroom. Interested to hear about your experience with them.

  7. I recently took a bus trip from the middle of Nebraska to Minneapolis. The buses were fine, the employees were horrible. Most of the passengers were poor and/or immigrants. They were treat very badly; I was treated almost as badly. The immigrants were yelled at because, ya know, if you don’t understand English you will when it is very loud. Moreover, I found this article interesting:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2017/dec/20/bussed-out-america-moves-homeless-people-country-study

    • Ugh. Same goes for public transit. Customers are treated like criminals because they are poor and/or immigrants. Meanwhile quality of service declines while our transportation system is privatized via services like Uber/Lyft.

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