Weekly Obsession: Built for (broadband) speed

Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 10:05pm


It’s like a normal bus, but more mega.

Last week, Chicago-based Megabus announced it is bringing its outsized transportation to Music City.

For as low as $1 — if booked far enough in advance — Nashvillians are promised nonstop service to either Chattanooga or Atlanta on big blue double-deckers, complete with free Wi-Fi and power outlets in every seat, so the trip will not have to interrupt your quest to beat the next level of Angry Birds.

Megabus is pushing into the South partly as a reaction to Greyhound offering express city-to-city service across Dixieland. 

Outflanking the Old Grey Pup, Megabus is offering its Nashville-to-Atlanta express on the cheap while Greyhound drags its feet.

Megabus’ business model is a bit of a dark art. It’s part economy of scale: “Look — it’s a giant bus! We can cram a jazillion people in here!.” It’s part low overhead: no terminals — the Nashville version will pick up in front of the East Nashville Ramada and downtown at Fifth and Commerce. And those $1 rates? Well, they jump to $30 for the procrastinating sort who wakes up on a Tuesday and says “Gee, I’d love to go to Atlanta today!”

Megabus’ model also rejects the cliches of bus-riding. There’s no depressing terminal and all transactions are done online — appealing to a certain clientele. It encourages laptop use. All the songs about riding on inter-city buses are in a minor key for a reason. Megabus wants to change that tune. Riding on the bus is hip and fun! Like a cool indie pop song that’s really great, but you’ve probably never heard of it.

Megabus also knows how to pump up demand. Ahead of its Nov. 15 launch, the company is giving away 10,000 free tickets — no doubt hoping the loss-leader leads to profits down the road as Nashville appetites for Orange Dreams from the Varsity are whetted to the point of insatiability or that just one look into the cute faces of the otters at the Tennessee Aquarium will never be enough.

It’s nice, of course, to have a transportation alternative. Atlanta is close enough that flying isn’t worth it and driving yourself is a chore. Until the time high-speed rail moves from pipe dream to plausibility, the bus is the best of both worlds: someone else does the heavy lifting as in air travel, but there’s no invasive and embarrassing body scans. You can keep your shoes on and everything.

And Megabus encourages use of electronic devices during travel, rather than inexplicably mandating a power down.

7 Comments on this post:

By: macjedi on 10/31/11 at 8:49

AWESOME!! Where the road lobby blocks trains, let there be Greyhound-bashing busses!

By: JeffF on 10/31/11 at 10:14

I think this is a big deal. Nashville is located in a spot where a hub for this operation would make sense. We just have to use it.

Don't get derailed by train fanciers, Star Trek style transporters will be common before high speed rail exists in most of this country. Our society made a decision decades ago to commit to expensive road and air systems. We are approaching a century of build out on the nation's highway and roads system. Any new improvements will not be using a system with almost zero infrastructure investment in those same years. Our improvements will begin and end with the highway and air transport infrastructures already in place.

We cannot FOLLOW Europe and Japan because they committed to rail at the same time we committed to roads. We would have to spend a century of infrastructure money just to get where they are now.

Modern, efficient, and large buses and planes are where the U.S. focus will be for generations to come. An inexpensive yet profitable bus route to another city with limited stops is a brilliant idea that is expanding at tremendous speed. Millions of Americans can be serviced in this manner with current public infrastructure while billions will need to be spent to serve much fewer along a thin corridor with high speed rail.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 10/31/11 at 11:07

Back in the '60's & early '70's when I was in collage in Memphis Trailways had a express bus service from Memphis to Nashville. Leaving from an east Memphis hotel (can't remember which one) and arriving at the Newsome Station exit (Belview) one could ride for three hours in total comfort with snacks provided free by a uniformed stewardess One could not drive as cheaply even in those days. The other nice thing about this service was to be any more solitary one would have to drive alone, strangely there was hardly anyone on the bus! Instead of the usual stainless steel sides to the bus these express buses were anodized gold. Pretty cool but I'm afraid even today there won't be enough demand. I mean nobody in Nashville commutes to Atlanta and there is really no reason to go there to shop.

By: bfra on 10/31/11 at 2:55

Atlanta is a great place to shop!

By: producer2 on 11/1/11 at 6:45

JeffF,
I totally agree with you with one caveat. As a nation we cannot follow the lead of Europe on rail because of the size of our country. We can however adapt to rail in a regional transportation mode. We should also look at express bus service to solve some of these issues but more than anything we as a society must stop relying on our cars to do everything for us and THINK like Europe when it comes to the reasons for mass transportation.

By: MusicCity615 on 11/1/11 at 9:07

Great point producer. I am for anything and everything that gets Americans out of there cars- that includes buses and high speed rail.

My only problem with buses is that they still sit in traffic on the interstates and they take longer than one driving.

I support high speed rail to Atlanta through Chattanooga.

By: smiless on 11/9/11 at 12:35

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