A few years ago, I was having lunch with a friend who told me, “I realized yesterday that we live at Burlington’s lowest point in terms of alternative transportation for at least the last hundred years.” He was right. We both moved here in the fall of 2005. In the early part of that year, Vermont Transit eliminated it’s Burlington-Rutland-Albany bus route and between 2000-2005, they had cut routes that reached all over the state (including the Northeast Kingdom) down to two: Montreal-Burlington-WRJ-Boston and Burlington-WRJ-Hartford (with a few intermediate stops). In the early 2000s we missed the end of staffed Amtrak stations and checked baggage service in Vermont, as well as the ill-fated Champlain Flyer experiment and a six month period where Vermont Rail Service ran a connector train between the Ethan Allen and Burlington. In 1996, the Montrealer was cut, which paved way for the Vermonter, but it would have been a very convenient option for the VT-CT travel we frequently do. The list goes on and on…
Today, I reflected on something more optimistic – after hitting the low point around 2007, alternative transportation is on the upswing (and man, is it fun to be a part of it!). In particular, there have been some momentous events in the last few years that show a bright, vibrant future for alternative transit here. Without question, the introduction of Carshare Vermont changed the entire landscape of transportation in Burlington and the upgrades to the Vermonter will ultimately be very significant over the long term. Additionally, Link Express service has greatly expanded and local transit has improved on many corridors, such as the Essex Junction and Williston lines.
It was announced today that Megabus is coming to Burlington, providing two trips a day between here and Boston. The arrival of a respected, low cost, intercity bus carrier marks another giant leap forward from Burlington. Megabus (and other competing companies) have been revolutionizing transit for years on the Northeast Corridor and in other cities. This is a type of service that people from all walks of life will ride – clean buses, with power outlets on most buses and fleet-wide WiFi, non-stop service and prices so low that driving (even with passengers) is vastly more expensive.
Greyhound takes 5+ hours to reach Boston, which is a 3 hour-ish drive. They charge $45-$85 per ticket, which made taking one’s own car significantly cheaper in many cases, and especially with more than one person. Megabus will provide the same service in 3.5 hours and charge between $1-$30ish. Megabus is considered a “no-frills” carrier, but then what exactly am I paying for with Greyhound? My girlfriend and I just booked tickets to Boston in August to try the service out – the total cost for both of us, roundtrip was $3.50! Now, to be fair, that’s because I was able to get one of the tickets free (they are giving away 1,000 free tickets to celebrate the start of the service, use promo code BURL1K, expires 9/17). Had I not been able to, the roundtrip would have cost us a whole $4.50. Now, I was able to get low prices – Megabus only sells 2-3 seats on each bus for $1. But if you book a few weeks in advance, it’s not hard to get fares like this – my sister routinely takes Megabus between Pittsburgh and New York (more than twice the distance) for less than $10. And I wouldn’t complain about a $15 or $20 ticket to Boston, either.
Once this goes into effect, I can’t imagine why anyone going to Boston would choose to drive, unless they needed to bring back a lot of luggage or a large number of people. Megabus, and services like it, is one of the leading reasons why car ownership is down among people in my age bracket. Before, getting to Boston was an expensive hassle without a car – Megabus’s arrival has makes bus travel a no brainer.
I hope the bus is substantially patronized, prompting Megabus to expand to other destinations from Burlington – Albany/Upstate New York would be very nice, as there’s no way to get there from Burlington when the ferry isn’t running. Montreal is an obvious choice and Megabus already runs intra-Canada service there. New York would also be a good choice, though there are already a handful of options to get there from Burlington. However, in a moment of tremendous hope such as this, it’s important to remember that ridership is everything: if the bus is not well patronized, service will be gone as fast as it begun. Megabus has regularly pulled underperforming routes without hesitation. If you don’t ride it, you don’t support it. I’m not suggesting that readers of this blog plan extra trips to Boston – but if you hear of someone driving there, try and get them on this bus (it will save them lots of money, too!).
Service begins August 17th and the schedule is already posted on Megabus.com. Buses arrive and depart at the UVM Davis Center (on Main St). I’ll be on board August 27th and 28th and will provide a followup post with a trip report and photos.