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TPG Contributor J. Keith van Straaten recently took a one-way Megabus ride during a Tuesday afternoon commute from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — for $27. Read on for his impressions of the Megabus experience. (All photos by the author.)
Lots of people fly into Las Vegas with dreams of winning big, only to have to make their way home with little to no money. Whether you’ve planned it that way or not, often the cheapest option in or out of town is taking a bus. After experiencing the private jet lifestyle to get to Las Vegas, I thought it was only fair to test out the other end of the travel spectrum for the ride back to LA.
There are many bus options available from Las Vegas (including Greyhound, BoltBus and Lux Bus), so I used Wanderu to search for one that would work for me. Though Wanderu offers an app for iPhone and Android, the website works just fine and allowed me to sort by carrier, schedule, travel time or cost. I chose a route with Megabus, not just for these factors but also because its stop in LA is at Union Station, which would give me lots of transit options to get back to my home.
Clicking on the trip I wanted brought me to a booking page on the Megabus website, which was also easy to use. Though the original price quoted was $24 (it would have been even less if I’d booked more in advance), all fares add a $2 booking fee and I opted to reserve a seat for an additional $1 — how novel that the total price exceeded the cost of just reserving a seat on some airlines!
Terminal and Check-In
Megabus departs from Las Vegas at the RTCSSTT, or the Regional Transportation Commission South Strip Transfer Terminal. It’s a stone’s throw from McCarran Airport (LAS) and cars — including my Uber — can pull up to the curb about 50 yards from the door.
The facilities were pretty sparse. Vending machines are the only food and drink option, though thankfully the interior has air conditioning, Wi-Fi and a table with power outlets. Riders can also use a smattering of metal tables and chairs. As a public transportation terminal, you’ll find its share of vagrants mixed in with the rest of the travelers.
What Megabus’ home in Las Vegas does not have is a presence from Megabus — no check-in counter, no kiosks, no listings on monitors. The only sign of Megabus is its two signs, one of which seems to direct passengers to board in the women’s bathroom, as shown below.
At 1:20pm, a security guard yelled into the terminal for passengers on the 1:35pm bus to Los Angeles to make their way to Bay #9, which, skipping the arrow pointing to the women’s bathroom, was easy to find. Check-in involved showing the confirmation e-mail on my phone to the baggage handler outside.
Most of the passengers had boarded by the time I got to the bus, which was to prove a fruitless endeavor. At 1:25pm, a passenger told nearby travelers that the bus had no air conditioning. A few passengers exited the bus and milled around, awaiting an announcement; some belligerently questioned the driver, who had no answers.
At 1:31pm, I heard the baggage handler answering questions and figured out that the company was sending another bus but there was no telling how long that was really going to take. There was no official announcement and passengers were simply spreading the word among themselves. One of the beefy security guards told a nearby cluster of passengers, “Next time take BoltBus. Much better.”
Just after 1:35pm, the time of our scheduled departure, the bus did depart — emptied of all people and bags. No representative from the company was on site and no alerts came to my phone until 2:20pm in the form of an email saying the bus would be leaving 90-120 minutes late.
At 3:08pm, a security guard announced that the replacement bus was on its way and that we should line up again at Bay #9. At 3:15pm, the new bus arrived to cheers from the crowd. Re-boarding started immediately and by 3:25pm, everyone and their luggage were on board. The bus pulled away at 3:27pm, just shy of being two hours late.
Cabin, Seats, and Ride
Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the trip, with upload and download speeds of just .1 Mbps. Each seat also had its own power outlet, unfortunately located at the front of the seat, allowing it to be accidentally unplugged several times as I shifted my legs.
Seating was mostly in a 2-2 formation, with added seats in the back row, totaling 81 passengers and one driver. There were staircases at the front and back and a lavatory in the back of the first deck of the double decker bus.
Though there was no footrest, my seat was generally comfortable, even without reclining. I did not have a seat-back pocket or a tray table, which made it a challenge to use my laptop or eat a meal — the seats located at the front of each section did have a small counter though. No refreshments were provided and I noticed many passengers had brought their own sandwiches and drinks along for the ride.
There was no overhead storage and the under-the-seat storage space was just large enough to hold a backpack. A seatbelt was provided but not required to use. There were no window shades except for a huge one at the front that did not seem to work properly.
Though the air conditioning was strong — and could be adjusted by the vents located at each seat — and the windows were darkly tinted, I would have been much more comfortable on the side of the bus away from the bright desert sun.
We cruised along the freeways at about 69 MPH (much slower on the inclines), and the ride overall was pretty smooth. It was easy to take a nap or read a book with the reading light. The bus itself was quieter than I’d expected, the downside of which was the ability to overhear peoples’ cell phone calls.
Stops and Arrival
At 6:01pm, the driver announced our scheduled stop — 30 minutes in Barstow — and that we should be back on the bus at 6:34pm. The Travel Center we stopped in had bathrooms, a Subway restaurant, a convenience store and a shockingly good Country Pride diner.
At 6:41pm, with the last of the stragglers boarded, we pulled out of Barstow, and at 7:50pm, we pulled off the freeway to make a stop at the train station in Riverside. We dropped off some passengers, picked up a few more and pulled back out at 8:00pm. The driver then announced that we’d be in LA in about an hour.
Less than an hour later, we pulled into Union Station and the doors opened at 8:55pm — just less than two hours late. Passengers with checked luggage gathered around the belly of the bus while I hopped onto the Metro train downstairs for my ride home.
I know there are people who would never ever ride a bus long distance, and while it still isn’t my first choice, I have to say I would ride Megabus between Las Vegas and Los Angeles again.
Compared to flying, the Megabus takes longer but is much less expensive. Compared to driving, it takes just about as long and has a comparable cost (between paying for gas and wear-and-tear), but also allows for napping and working. I won’t hold the delayed departure and need to replace equipment against it — it happens all the time on airlines — but I did need better on-site communication than what Megabus had provided.
Coming back from Sin City on Megabus wasn’t as fun as getting there on a charter jet, but it did get me home safely and mostly comfortably. For $27 (or as low as $1 if you’re lucky), you won’t find a better bet in Las Vegas.