Who Would Have Thought Riding the Bus Would Become a Hip Way To Travel

On Friday, Megabus announced it had reached 30 million passengers across North America, with pickups and drop offs in 100 cities. For a company that established its North American base in the local Chicago market back in 2006, that’s pretty rapid growth.

Today, double-decker Megabuses are a familiar sight as they whiz between stops like Washington DC’s Union Station and New York’s Penn Station, eschewing traditional bus stations for curbside pickups that are conveniently close to other transportation hubs. While no one could mistake the experience for a glamorous one, the success of the brand has hinged on changing Americans’ perception of interstate travel by bus.

When Megabus launched stateside (it debuted in Britain in 2003), American bus travel was generally seen as outdated; Why board a dingy Greyhound bus at an even dingier bus depot when you could puddle jump across the country via low-cost airlines like Jet Blue? But with its cheeky marketing campaign, spotless new vehicles, online-only booking system, and rock bottom fares, Megabus soon established itself as a purveyor of something entirely new.

In 2006, Megabus serviced just eight midwestern cities from the Chicago area with basic, single-deck buses as they got a feel for their customer base.To compete in the crowded market place, Megabus soon realized it needed to set itself apart from other bus lines. They decided to implement double-decker buses, channeling the fun inherent in travel via an association with the iconic British double-decker, and framing themselves as a playful brand, complete with a cheeky, British conductor as their mascot.

Instead of striving to position themselves as a luxury coach service, they went after irreverent and in-the-know creative types, who spread word of Megabus’ advantages amongst their friends.

As influencers touted the benefits of Megabus, the company continued to transform the notion of bus travel from something that was dingy and possibly dangerous (which, to be fair, it still might be) into something thrifty and even hip. Eventually, the intentionally no-frills service became an even more desirable means of travel–they introduced on-board Wi-Fi for customers, which led to increased patron productivity (or at least a larger number of Tinder matches) while on the road.

To undercut competitors like Greyhound, Megabus sold their bus passes online, tempting early bird customers with $1 fares; as each scheduled bus filled up, the price ticked upwards. For those without the foresight to book their Megabus a month in advance – read everyone – the typical fare can be anywhere from $20 to $30.

While plenty of competitors – think Boltbus or Vamoose – have risen since Megabus’ Chicago debut, those double-decker buses remain the paragon of the new genre of accessible, cost-cutting bus travel. Also keeping Megabus more relevant than ever? Amtrak’s insane costs and exasperating service as well as the hassle that comes with air travel.

“The company’s sales increased 22 percent in the United States during the past year,” noted Mike Alvich, Megabus’ Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations. As a result, Megabus raked in a whopping $153 million over the past fiscal year, a $33 million increase over the past year–that’s certainly a lot of $1 fares.

Image: Jeramey Jannene via Wikimedia