What’s Troubling Megabus Haters?

Despite the claims of Scott Walker et al. who say there is no market for intercity rail, the fact is there are a growing number of private companies offering intercity transportation service. One of them is Megabus.

Megabus is cheap. Megabus has free WiFi. Megabus doesn’t frisk you and confiscate your toothpaste. Best of all, the service reduces the need for single occupancy vehicles.

Megabus waiters: a nuisance? Photo: Urbanophile

But Aaron Renn at Network blog the Urbanophile says Megabus doesn’t get enough love from fans of urbanism and sustainable transport. He wonders if tension between private intercity bus service and hopes for high-speed rail might be the problem:

Among the common complaints are that Megabus is “subsidized” because it uses valuable curb side real estate in cities for free, that they are implicitly subsidized by highway funding, that passengers waiting for the bus at the stop are a nuisance, that the buses clog the streets and pump fumes into the air in a way that harms the “neighborhood,” and that the service really isn’t that good because of congestion. Even the government of Washington, DC is getting in on the act, as reported they want to charge Megabus a fee for access to their loading zones.

And to argue about crowds hurting city life seems a bit odd given that we’re told one of rail’s benefits is bringing all those people in to patronize businesses. I know I’ve made purchases at businesses near the Megabus stop that I wouldn’t have otherwise made. And in places like Midtown Manhattan, there are already vehicles of all types more or less continuously stopped or even double parked along the avenues. Megabus is barely a blip here. Plus don’t forget all the loading zones that already serve many private businesses all over our cities.

So why the complaints? They can speak for themselves, but I suspect a couple of items. Firstly, some people just don’t like private sector solutions. That’s a view I can respect, but not agree with. But more importantly, I think that there’s fear that successful private sector intercity bus service undermines the case for high speed rail that is near and dear to the urbanist heart.

Meanwhile, Rob Pitingolo at Extraordinary Observations says to count him in the anti-Megabus camp, though not for any of the reasons Renn details. Pitingolo says the service is unreliable on a Greyhound-esque scale.

So what do you think? Are urbanists being unfair to Megabus? Is the growth in private intercity bus service a threat to high-speed rail efforts, a sign of how much it’s needed, or something else altogether?

Elsewhere on the Network today: NRDC Switchboard offers more praise for Arlington, Virginia, which just received a new round of data indicating that its efforts to encourage sustainable transportation have been a tremendous success. This Big City reports urbanism is catching hold in Africa. And M-Bike.org carries the awesome news that Detroit and its surrounding suburbs have received a $750,000 grant to make the important Woodward corridor a complete street.