Where to put Megabus is a big issue for many
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You want a sure way to anger thousands of young people? Mess with Megabus.
That's the big intercity bus that appeals to everyone's inner skinflint. I'm not young, but later this month I intend to make a round-trip to Washington, D.C., on one for $35.
Yeah. That's right. Thirty-five bucks. Make your reservation early enough online and that's the rate you can get, or even lower. That's why between 500 and 800 people depart Downtown daily via these double-tiered buses bound for Washington, New York and a handful of other places, while a similar number come here from the other directions.
When the story broke last week that city officials had declared Megabus vehiculum non grata at its customary David L. Lawrence Convention Center stop, a mega-rampage of rants began immediately in the comments section of the Post-Gazette's article online. The overwhelming consensus among students, hipsters and graying cheapskates was that moving -- or, worse, stopping -- something so affordable, convenient and efficient would set new lows for Pittsburgh.
A grown-up city ought to be able to figure this out. But customers should also know that, wherever the Megabus stop winds up, it's going to make someone unhappy. For more than a year, that unhappy person has been Mark Leahy, the convention center's general manager.
While Mr. Leahy acknowledges the service is "great for the city'' and serves "all walks of life,'' he also says the buses are squatters in a place where they were never invited.
"They chose us,'' he said. "We didn't choose them. They showed up one day. 'This is Megabus.' ''
It's an ideal spot for riders because it's easy to find, well-lit and safe. Those dropping off or picking up riders can zip in on the 10th Street Bypass without getting snarled in much Downtown traffic. Plus it's covered. But the very thing that makes Megabus so affordable -- eliminating most of the overhead by operating without terminals -- makes it an intrusive neighbor.
Someone in Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office made sure I knew the New York Department of Transportation is booting Megabus from its midtown Manhattan location outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal because its rent-paying competitors inside the terminal don't see why it should get a free perch. The local community board didn't like the buses there either.
Mr. Leahy's beefs are a little different. The convention center's seen an uptick in litter and graffiti since the arrival of Megabus, he said, and some of the riders have used the rest rooms for showers and ripped off the toilet paper. (There go those "all walks of life'' walking funny again.) To top it off, more than half the calls the convention center gets these days are inquiries about the bus schedules -- "they think we're in business with them,'' Mr. Leahy said.
Duane Ashley, the mayor's director of operations, says "we're a business-friendly city,'' and he has three departments and the Parking Authority trying to figure out how to squeeze this 21st century operation into an 18th century street grid. Charles Lenzner, president of Lenzner Coach Lines, whose parent, Coach USA, owns Megabus, wants to stay Downtown. So do most customers, though some of the younger ones have made a pitch for Oakland.
Wherever the buses go, though, they're bound to tick someone off. Plopping your large self in a public right of way will do that nearly every time.
"We're trying to make his flawed business paradigm work,'' an exasperated Mr. Ashley said.
Pittsburgh has a new bus terminal just a block from the convention center, but even if Greyhound hadn't taken all the spaces the Megabus literally wouldn't fit inside. The buses are just too mega for the ceiling height.
The city has looked at removing parking meters to accommodate the buses outside the Municipal Courts Building near the Allegheny County Jail, but that might be out of the way for customers and inconvenient for parkers accustomed to the meters. Lately, Mr. Ashley said, he's looked at spots near the new Gateway T stop as possible locations.
Megabus will endure. It may not be the most elegant way to travel, and it may never find a location that suits it as well as the convention center has, but it will endure because thousands of locals save money using it. They like saving money, and they vote.
First Published June 10, 2012 12:00 am