Updated with letter from the Metro Department of Law
When Megabus first announced it would start operating in Nashville, it presented an additional low-cost alternative for travelers to and from Music City. The bus service, which offers fares as low as $1, now claims to provide transportation for 200,000 people per year through its Nashville stop.
But Megabus may have temporarily outgrown its welcome. A key part of the company’s business plan is the absence of a brick-and-mortar location, which reduces overhead and allows prices to remain low. In Nashville, Megabus has used public streets and sidewalks for its drop-offs and pickups.
The model has caused a few headaches — and Megabus officials are in town this weekend to scout new locations as a way to smooth things out with local officials.
As the Megabus service grew in popularity, its original downtown stop on Commerce Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues caused traffic troubles. The large double-decker buses parked at the location for several minutes at a time as passengers loaded and unloaded.
In December, Metro’s Traffic and Parking Commission ousted Megabus from the downtown site and asked the company to find another suitable spot to operate as of Jan. 1.
“It was my understanding that our intent was to send the message to them to find a location off of a Metro street, and that if they did want to pursue another location off a Metro street, they would have to propose that location to us,” commission member Steven Turner told The City Paper.
So Turner was surprised when he saw news reports indicating Megabus had set up shop off Nolensville Road near the fairgrounds. He said the commission has received several complaints about the “ill placement” of the stop.
“Their business model is to come into the city and provide the city with a service at no cost,” Turner said. “But I would prefer to see them partner as a business with another business ... and not necessarily ride the backs of city roadways to facilitate their business.”
But Megabus director of operations Byrony Chamberlain said the company received approval from Metro Transit Authority to use the stop temporarily for about three or four weeks. An MTA spokeswoman denied any formal contract exists with Megabus.
The company was hoping to finalize negotiations in January to use a site off James Robertson Parkway near the south end of Bicentennial Mall.
Chamberlain said those plans “fell apart” because the state — whose Department of General Services oversees Bicentennial Mall — didn’t approve.
“We just need to find somewhere which is safe, suitable for our customers, approved by the city — and we are struggling, I’ll be honest,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain insists Megabus doesn’t want to mooch off the city’s resources.
“We’re not scared of paying our way and making sure we get somewhere decent,” Chamberlain said. “It’s finding a location that we can lease from either a private company or from a city or state authority and ensuring that it suits our services ... and we don’t have neighbors nearby who we might inconvenience.”
Megabus realizes that loading and unloading at curbside isn’t the solution for Nashville, Chamberlain said. The company scouted the Clement Landport, an MTA-owned structure behind Cummins Station off the Demonbreun Street Bridge, which was originally built for buses in 1997. MTA, which is currently using the site for parking, wasn’t receptive to the idea.
An ideal location for Megabus would also have quick access to forms of public transportation and cars. As Megabus has discovered, those spots aren’t plentiful in downtown Nashville.
Due to its low prices, Megabus also has a large contingent of student customers, so the company may also try to find space near one of the local universities as a backup plan, Chamberlain said.
“We have done our best,” Chamberlain said. “There’s a lot of overlap. When you’re trying to find a bus stop, there is overlap between so many city departments, and [that] is in reference to every city.”
Megabus had a similar run-in with city hall in Dallas. The company originally advertised a downtown Dallas bus stop before city attorneys stepped in, according to reporting in The Dallas Morning News. Megabus then moved to a location owned by Coach USA, its parent company, before reaching an agreement to use a public transportation facility.
Chamberlain said she expects a move in Nashville soon.
“We’ve got a number of different negotiations working at the moment, and I’m hopeful that something is going to come out of these current meetings in the next few weeks,” she said.
Turner said he hopes Megabus can find a suitable spot, but the traffic commission may consider adding regulations to prevent future problems.
“I think we definitely should have some kind of regulation in place,” Turner said. “I’ve been considering putting something together myself to see what we can do.”
The Metro Department of Law sent a letter to Coach USA stating that the company needed to find a private lot to operate out of it rather than a public right of way. Metro threatened to take "more aggressive action" if needed.