Travel

Megabus strands busload of Detroit passengers on streets of Chicago

I spent five days last week in the Windy City raving to friends about how cheap — $15 — and how easy it was to get there from Detroit aboard the double-decker, wi-fi equipped Megabus. It even arrived an unheard-of 20 minutes early last Tuesday.

On Sunday morning, my raves, unfortunately, turned into rants. And the bonus 20 minutes I picked up en route turned into an upsetting 2-hour-plus time loss when the Megabus inexcusably left half a busload of Detroit- and Ann Arbor-bound passengers — 45 to 50 people and their luggage! — stranded on the streets of Chicago.

Are you kidding me?!

If it wasn’t so frustrating, it would be almost laughable how the nearly 40,000 runners participating in Chicago’s 8k Shamrock Shuffle threw a major monkey wrench into our travel plans.

But it didn’t have to work that way. In fact, it looked as if the situation was under control even though the regular Megabus pick-up/drop-off point, on Canal Street south of Union Station, was blocked off for the race.

A young Megabus staffer paraded around on the street in front of us, talking on the phone to her colleagues (we thought) and seemed to have the logistics problem figured out. She even dispatched a co-worker to lead the crowd of passengers waiting for an earlier Des Moines bus across the barricaded street and through an underground passage to an alternate pick-up point on the other side of the race.

But they left us standing there, in the original spot, as the runners continued to flow along that street — and our 10:30 a.m. bus pulled away without us.

Too bad there was no type-A traveler in our midst to pester the Megabus staffer, who, my husband later realized, had disappeared into a car and was sitting there doing nothing, pretty much right in front of us, as our departure time neared and passed.

By the time she and her Megabus co-worker led us over to the alternate street corner on Adams, the Detroit-Ann Arbor bus had pulled away and was headed out on the Skyway to Indiana.

At first we were told by another Megabus worker stationed there, the one who had sent the bus on its merry way without us, that it had just left and would be “right back.”

But it turned into a two-hour ordeal, filled with excuses about how the bus driver had his cellphone turned off, how there were no exits on the Skyway, etc., etc.

Anyway, the promised five-minute delay turned into a full two hours of us standing on the sidewalks of Chicago. Some of us hesitated to take a quick stroll to a nearby Starbucks bathroom and risk missing the bus that was “on its way.” At least it was a beautiful sunny day and we could watch the stream of runners, but even they disappeared by 11 a.m.

Talk about frustrating! In the end, the Detroit bus that was half full had to bring all those passengers back to pick us up; those passengers had an extra two-hour bus ride while we cooled our heels for two hours on the street. Lose, lose all around.

We finally got back to downtown Detroit after 7 p.m., Sunday, instead of before 4:30 p.m. as scheduled.

Some of the passengers said they would demand their money back. And, based on senselessly losing two hours of my vacation time, I think I’ll join them. My husband and I paid $33 each for the Sunday return trip, which included a much-need pit-stop off I-94 in Marshall, where the bus typically stops coming and going.

I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out when I have time to contact Megabus management.

A snafu like this just goes to show you the vagaries of travel. You win some, you lose some.

But, surprisingly, even this won’t keep me from taking the Megabus again. It’s cheap and clean with mostly cordial employes. And it typically runs efficiently — with a better on-time record, I heard, than some Amtrak routes.

Susan R. Pollack
Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 48 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide," and is the copy editor for secondchancetravels.com. She also has written for websites including gardendestinations.com and travelingmom.com.