Megabus – Pgh Leaders Need To Show Leadership

I’m sure you know about Megabus – $2 fares to New York City, et al. Double decker buses. Wi-fi. Express routes. Megabus is an efficient, cost-effective transportation resource for moderate and low income individuals traveling across PA and beyond.

We recently took a trip to Providence, Rhode Island for a conference. The trip to NYC was about $30 each. Total trip was less than $200 which was awesome. The service was fine, only minor discomforts.

Megabus departs David L. Lawrence Convention Center

During the trip, I overheard some of the drivers talking amongst themselves about their salaries. They are not unionized. Drivers and staff based in Pittsburgh make UP TO $11/hour which stunned me. The NYC folks apparently make $16 and upwards. I can understand a COLA difference, but $11 to drive a bus? It can’t be an easy job – controlling people’s behavior, driving a long route, handling poor weather conditions, etc. It seems worth more than $11/hour but I guess that’s how they keep rates so low.

Currently, Pittsburgh is in the midst of a dispute over the location of the Megabus stop. For several years, it has been at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. This provides shelter from the weather and seems like a good fit. But the owners of the Convention Center are displeased with the impact of Megabus on their property and want it relocated.

Unfortunately, no one else wants Megabus either. Plans to move it to Gateway Center were ko’ed by the property owners who threatened to sue.

The issues are pretty basic – a large crowd of people gathering for an hour or so before the bus arrives inevitably bring some chaos including litter, bathroom needs and a general rambling atmosphere. I can imagine it is disruptive to the Convention Center and would continue to be disruptive because its a popular service and THERE’S NO STAFF.

Orderly lines in NYC

We arrived at 5:55 AM for a 7 AM departure. There was no staff, no signage, no nothing. It too us 15 minutes to find the right line because no one knew anything. The staff person showed up about 6:30 in time to help a group heading elsewhere board. That’s not sufficient. Conventional wisdom for riders is arrive an hour early and even doing that — there were dozens of others who clearly had been there longer.

Compare this to NYC. There’s an arrival station in Chelsea (Manhattan) where the staff efficiently unload your bags and send you on your way to get that bus moving. You have to trek 10 blocks or so to the departure station in Hell’s Kitchen at the Port Authority Bldg. No seats, no bathrooms, no shade — but at least 3 staff there the entire time. They kept order, they didn’t put up with any crap and they were pretty nice about things like the closet bathroom. The only “convenience” is a street cart with bottles of water and various foods.

So we have a wage difference of around $5/hour and a completely different dynamic in NYC. We watched the staffers boot people for line jumping, help people with their luggage, ensure trash was in the trash cans, repeatedly direct folks to the right lines and basically keep order.

I can’t help but wonder if its because their labor is better compensated and if the Pittsburgh carrier (Lenzner) doesn’t want to spend the extra money for earlier staff or a second staff person, even at $11/hour?  It would be very easy to test this theory that more adequate staffing would improve the location by simply hiring someone else now and seeing what happens.

Instead, we have this ongoing perception that people who “can afford” Megabus (students and poor folks) are inherently undesirable because they don’t intuit which lines are which and occasionally have to pee.  And that’s not good. Removing    Megabus from Downtown would be devastating. It is difficult enough to get there at 6 AM if you have to carry luggage. It is not convenient to the T, buses — well we all know what’s happening with buses — and finding a cab at 5:30 AM is not fun unless you know a private driver (that’s what we did.)

IMHO, the City should simply insist Lenzner have adequate staff and hold them accountable for keeping people in line, cleaning up litter and directing folks to nearby bathrooms – oh, that’s probably an issue but what can you do? Find a solution so the Convention Ctr doesn’t complain about this issue. In return, the City needs to negotiate with the property owners so they have reasonable expectations and get their needs met without threatening to boot the service.

We need City Council to take leadership and keep a vital transit resource Downtown, not to a less accessible spot that’s more “appropriate” for low and moderate income residents. Daniel Lavelle is chair of the committee which oversees Transportation so I urge you to contact his office on this issue.

I realize the agitating for adequate pay means higher rates which is counterintuitive to my intent here. But after seeing the drivers in action, they deserve better and better wages will contribute to the safety and comfort of the trip.

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