Megabus is rolling into Fort Wayne, offering eye-popping prices for some seats on motor coaches equipped with free Wi-Fi.
At least two seats on every bus cost only $1, and the transportation company sometimes gives free travel as special promotions.
But some popular in-state destinations aren’t offered – yet – as the company evaluates demand for additional routes.
Although young professionals and college students are two of Megabus’ core customer groups, current destinations out of Fort Wayne don’t include Indianapolis, Bloomington or West Lafayette.
Paramus, N.J.-based Coach USA/Megabus.com acquired several companies late last year, including Cleveland-based Lakefront Lines Inc. Megabus started operating Lakefront’s 16 existing routes from Fort Wayne on Dec. 19, said Mike Alvich, marketing and public relations vice president.
Seats can be booked online up to 45 days in advance. A few seats are sold for $1 each on every bus. Then, another limited number of seats is sold for $3 each.
Prices increase in stages as the departure dates near and availability shrinks.
On Wednesday afternoon, Megabus was charging $41 each for seats on its 1:05 p.m. Thursday bus from Fort Wayne to Columbus, Ohio. The company also assesses a 50-cent booking fee per ticket. Customers pay with a credit card and print the confirmation or show the driver the number on a hand-held device.
A computer program determines the mix of seat prices on each route to ensure the company makes a profit while also offering some fares low enough to excite travelers.
Factors that influence pricing include day of the week, time of day, holidays and seasonal demand.
Megabus, which was founded in Scotland, was introduced in the U.S. in 2006 and has gone on to transport 25 million passengers nationally. It offers service to 120 U.S. cities.
International markets include England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Cheap seats there sell for 1 euro.
Alvich believes Megabus competes most directly with private passenger cars and people’s belief that they can’t afford to travel. He doesn’t think other competitors offer much, well, competition.
People’s expectations of bus companies weren’t very high, he said. They thought they’d be sitting next to someone holding a chicken, I guess.
Greyhound Lines Inc. said its buses are far from farm-like. The company offers daily service from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis and Toledo where riders can connect to numerous other cities.
The Dallas company started replacing outdated buses in 2008 with new motor coaches with amenities including free Wi-Fi, power outlets and more legroom. Now, 75 percent of Greyhound’s fleet is updated, spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said. It also offers $1 fares in some markets but not Fort Wayne.
The bus company has been thriving in recent years. The recession increased demand for bus travel as people looked for more affordable, flexible and comfortable ways to travel, she said.
For now, Megabus has put its logo on the side of the Lakefront Lines buses it acquired. If passenger demand increases enough, the company will look at assigning some of its signature double-decker buses to the routes, Alvich said. And officials are evaluating additional destinations.
We’re absolutely looking at Indianapolis in the future, he said.
The local Megabus stop is the Citilink terminal at 121 W. Baker St. Alvich said the company tries to make it easy for passengers to catch a local bus to the Megabus stop so they can leave their cars at home. The strategy also helps visitors to large cities access public transportation to reach their final destinations.
Hilary Huffman, 23, took a Megabus from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday on a trip to visit family.
The student at the University of Illinois in Chicago has taken five or six Megabus trips over the past two years. Her most recent ticket was free.
If I feel like getting away, she said, it’s a cheaper way to do it.