This sounded like a great plan to me. In general, I don’t mind driving, even long distances, but I could see how a long car ride with my mother could be problematic. Mostly because of my music choices.
But on the Megabus, I could listen to what ever I wanted (which mostly turned out to be M.I.A., Wilco, Pearl Jam, and Arcade Fire), plus tweet, look at the Philadelphia guide book I had purchased for the trip, and read my book, A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin.
So I made the reservations, and we were ready to ride.
Here is what you should know if you’re going to ride the Megabus:
1. If you want the really, really low rates (I have heard of people riding for as low as $5), you have to make reservations way in advance. My mother and I didn’t ride for low, low rates of $1 or $5.
2. You don’t have a lot of room on a Megabus. About the same as if you were riding on a plane. Minus the overhead compartments. Mom and I were perfectly comfortable, for the most part — I could’ve used a little more leg room, natch.
3. You can bring food, drinks, and electronics on the bus. Most seats even offer an outlet or two if you want to charge your phone or save your laptop batteries. Mom and I had water, snacks — including cheese and crackers, complete with a cutting board — and even white wine.
4. The Megabus between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia makes two stops, one at Harrisburg to let people off and pick people up, and one at Sideling Hill on the PA Turnpike for a rest/snack/stretch-your-legs stop. It is about a 5-and-a-half-hour drive with these stops.
Generally speaking, I would endorse the Megabus. Aside from a slight hiccough leaving Philadelphia on Sunday, it was a perfectly acceptable experience: affordable and pretty comfortable. And, let’s face it, being able to read a book for as long as I wanted was pretty sweet. The pros (not having to drive, pay for gas, worry about traffic) far outweighed the cons.
The cons primarily consisted of other passengers: loud music (yes, they had earbuds in, but the volume was cranked), a whiny toddler (I felt bad for him and for his stressed-out mama), a smelly seatmate (briefly — I changed seats), and bare feet.
I am sure that most of you all have lovely, smooth, well cared for, not-smelly feet. But even so, I don’t want to be exposed to them on public transportation. I would no more take off my shoes on a bus or a plane than I would sit in one of those seats in the buff. It’s unsanitary and unappetizing.
Two more things you should know:
In Harrisburg and Philadelphia, the bus stops were out in the open — no shelter, no building, no nothing. In Harrisburg, they pick up/drop off in a mall parking lot, and in Philadelphia, you’re on the sidewalk across from the 30th Street Station. This means if the weather is inclement, you’re in it. I was a little worried that we were going to get rained on before our trip back to Pittsburgh, but instead we stood out in the sun and the heat. Which was all fine and good, but, yeah, HOT.
Megabus seating is first come, first serve. If you want your pick of seats or you are traveling with a seatmate, get to your stop a good 30 to 40 minutes before departure. Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot of diminishing returns.
Leaving Philadelphia, they put us on a bus that did not have working air conditioning. I’m not quite clear how that happened, but for the 20 to 30 minutes we were on that bus, it sucked. A lot.
They turned us around and got us a new bus, but that put us about 2 hours behind our original timing, meaning we got into Pittsburgh at 11 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. When we unloaded and reloaded, Mom and I ended up being among the last people getting back on the bus, and this is when I ended up with a smelly seatmate (I’m sure I was no rose by this point, either, but it was clear this kid was a least a shower behind). Fortunately, there were enough empty seats that I was able to move.
Clearly, taking any kind of transportation that is not your own car has its own risks. I would gladly take the Megabus again, depending on my traveling companions. (If I were going somewhere on my own, I would probably just drive). But it’s not a bad idea, and for this weekend, it really worked out just fine.