TAMPA — Florida intercity transportation continues to head back to the future.
Sixty years after battles on U.S. routes between Greyhound’s twin-level Scenicruisers and Trailways’ high-deck Golden Eagles and a hostess serving en route beverages and snacks, 8-year-old Megabus.com is expanding its service to Tampa with new, $750,000, 81-seat double-decker buses.
Megabus will become the third long-distance bus company to serve Tampa and plans to begin routes to Miami and Orlando beginning May 15 with promotional fares as low as $2.50, including a reservation charge.
Megabus will offer three daily round-trips between Tampa and Miami departing Tampa at 9:15 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. and three round trips between Tampa and Orlando departing Tampa at 1:30 p.m., 5 p.m, and 9 p.m.
Promotional $1 one-way fares with a $1.50 reservation fee for the first week of travel through May 21 will be followed with at least one $1 fare on every bus, with other fares higher and dependent on demand for a particular trip, said Mike Alvich, Megabus vice president of marketing and public relations.
Megabus will use HART’s Marion Transit Center in Tampa, while low-cost competitor RedCoach, which serves a Tallahassee-Gainesville-Ocala-Naples-Miami route, stops at Tampa International Airport and the University of South Florida.
Greyhound, which serves Florida destinations from Tampa including Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando and beyond to Atlanta, Washington, and New York, operates from its downtown terminal on East Polk Street.
Paramus, N.J., based Megabus is one of a new type of discount city-to-city bus lines, including RedCoach, that has emerged in the past decade as competitors to conventional intercity bus companies such as Greyhound, and in some parts of the nation, to Amtrak and airlines.
“Disregarding the large cost savings, there isn’t a big difference in the time it takes for us to drive someone from Tampa to Orlando and Miami as opposed to flying when you consider parking, ticketing process and security,” Alvich said.
“Megabus.com is ... popular with college students and young professionals. Additionally, Tampa has a large leisure-based population that has the time and desire to travel. Finally, there’s a growing opportunity to appeal to business travelers, who can take the bus and be comfortable, but at the same time productive.”
Bus seats are equipped with lap/shoulder seat belts. The company has achieved an approval rating from the Transportation Safety Exchange, an independent rating organization of ground transportation providers.
Megabus has served 35 million passengers since starting up in 2006 and operates in 32 states and more than 120 cities.
Nationwide, discount city-to-city carriers in 2013 increased operations by 4 percent, measured in seat-miles, compared with 1 percent for commercial airlines and 0.6 percent for intercity rail service, the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at De Paul university reported.
“With gasoline prices generally above $3.50 a gallon, many travelers face strong disincentives for single-occupant trips,” authors of an April DePaul University report on tradeoff’s between bus, plan and train fares said.
“Even when costs in addition to fuel and tolls, such as depreciation are ignored, bus travel tends to undercut the cost of driving by more than 25 percent.”
Throughout the 1950s, Greyhound and Trailways advertised their long-distance service and new fleets of air conditioned, “air-ride suspension” smooth-riding buses alongside passenger train and airline ads in the nation’s most popular magazines.
As auto travel soared along with the nation’s developing interstate highway, and air travel became more affordable when government-imposed transportation price controls were eliminated, bus travel declined as did its image with the middle class.
But high gasoline prices, and new buses with amenities including reserved seating, Wi-Fi and power outlets for passengers’ computers, have redirected a portion of the ridership market toward the popularity buses had in the 1950s.
Greyhound has responded by creating specially branded competitors to the fledgling discount carriers in parts of the country including Greyhound Express, Neon and Boltbus.