Overnight on Megabus: Cleveland to New York City and back, in 36 hours

November 19, 2018

Overnight on Megabus: Cleveland to New York City and back, in 36 hours

CLEVELAND, Ohio – My packing list for New York was short: eye mask, earplugs, neck pillow, toothbrush. I loaded up my purse and headed downtown.

At a minute before midnight, we pulled out of the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Transit Center, headed east. We arrived in Manhattan at 8:45 a.m., with a full day of adventure ahead of us.

Megabus, the interstate, discount bus line, recently restarted its Cleveland-to-New York City service, this time as an overnight route. Travelers board at night, sleep on the bus (hopefully), and arrive in New York for a full day of play. The return trip is similar: Depart New York City at 10:15 p.m., arrive in Cleveland at 6:45 a.m., early enough, even, to go to work.

The route runs Thursday through Sunday, geared to leisure travelers interested in a day or weekend away in New York.

I tried the route earlier this month, departing late Thursday and returning early Saturday. I slept on the bus (badly), with 13 hours to play in New York. All this and no overpriced hotel room.

My travel experience was surprisingly pleasant, despite the inadequate sleep: buses were clean, drivers were communicative, fellow travelers were respectful.

With no TSA lines and no baggage fees, it’s easier and significantly cheaper than air travel. Total travel time, of course, is much longer. And tackling New York after a couple of hours of upright sleeping isn’t for everyone. Even so, I’d do it again without hesitation. (Several of my fellow travelers, however, would not; read about their experiences, below.)

Megabus, which launched in the United States in 2006, is perhaps best known for its gimmicky $1 fares. I paid much more than that -- $69.99 each way, but I bought my tickets three days before my trip. Others on my route paid less, between $80 and $100 round-trip.

Airfare between Cleveland and New York, for comparison purposes, runs about $252 each way, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

On my trip were several travelers who said they might not have made the trip if they didn’t have the Megabus option.

On my eastbound leg:

* A family of four from Solon.

* A young woman traveling to New York for a funeral.

* Three moms and their sons, seniors at Lakewood High School, en route to a three-day New York City getaway.

There was even one business traveler, Jayar Myers, who was put off by the $500 last-minute airfare to New York. “I thought I’d see how this goes,” he said. His verdict: not too bad.

Several passengers on my trip east, though, faced a travel nightmare getting home. They were notified late Sunday afternoon that their 10:15 p.m. return trip was canceled. And the next Megabus to Cleveland wasn’t for another four days.

A Megabus spokesperson said the cancellation was the first on this route, caused by a sick bus driver. Efforts to find a substitute were unsuccessful, she said.

One displaced family rented a car and drove home to Cleveland overnight; another group bought tickets on Greyhound. Both said they are unlikely to try Megabus again.

There was one glitch on my trip, but it was not the fault of Megabus. On our trip home, a portion of snow-covered I-80 in western Pennsylvania was closed because of an accident. We sat in traffic, not moving, for more than two hours, and were delayed by a similar length getting back to Cleveland.

Both going to and coming from New York, our driver made two stops: a 10-minute restroom break and a 20-minute stop at a Pilot Travel Center. Perhaps because of these stops, I didn’t notice anyone using the bathroom on the bus. I checked it out, and it appeared clean and well-maintained.

(On a Megabus trip several years ago, from Columbus to Cleveland – part of a much-longer Atlanta-to-Cleveland route – the bathroom was filthy.)

This new Cleveland to New York route is not part of a larger itinerary – the bus I boarded in Cleveland on Thursday night was the same one I took home on Friday night. The same driver drove both legs, resting in between.

The buses on this route are not the well-known Megabus double-deckers, bright blue and yellow. These were single-deck vehicles with Coach USA logos on them, and “megabus.com tickets accepted” on the side. Coach USA owns Megabus, as well Cleveland-based Lakefront Lines, which Coach purchased in 2012.

Boarding commenced 15 minutes before departure. I parked my car inside a nearby Cleveland State University garage for $10 a day. The drop-off and pick-up location in New York was inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal, 625 8th Avenue, so we didn’t have to wait outside on a corner, as is sometimes the case for Megabus.

Each leg of my trip was less than half full, so we could spread out, one passenger for every two seats, which made it easier to sleep. Legroom was adequate; seats reclined; WiFi seemed to work.

In recent years, Megabus has been in a cost-cutting mode, as falling gas prices sent people back to their cars. But with gas prices on their way back up, Megabus is slowing adding back capacity.

At one time, Megabus offered more than a dozen destinations from Cleveland, including Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati. Today, the bus line serves just three – New York City, Chicago and Toledo. Megabus previously operated a Cleveland-to-New York route, which ran during the day and was canceled in early 2017.

Megabus is looking at other Cleveland additions, as well, including the possibility of restarting a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati route in 2019, according to Colm Lynch, vice president of retail at megabus.com.

There are other bus options from Cleveland, of course. Greyhound offers numerous daily trips to New York City, including an overnight express route (with prices that look to be at least 20 percent higher than Megabus). Tour operators, including Great Day! Tours, also offer regular overnight express trips to New York.

Megabus, however, seems to be the most economical option, especially for travelers who plan ahead. So get planning. New York awaits.

Coming Tuesday: How I spent my 13 hours in New York City

Megabus pick-up and drop-off in New York City is at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, 625 Eighth Avenue.  Susan Glaser, The Plain Dealer

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