Megabus Service to Chicago Ends, Impact Minimal for Michiganders

The end of daily bus service between greater Lansing and Chicago by Megabus should have a minor impact on mid-Michiganders who are looking to get to and from the Windy City, say area officials.

The route, abandoned by Megabus on Jan. 10, is still served by two other bus lines, in addition to jet and rail service from Lansing to Chicago. Plus, the vast majority of greater Lansing’s visitors drive themselves here anyway, officials said.

“More options are better, obviously, for our residents and our visitors,” said Jack Schripsema, president and CEO of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. “My guess is that [the impact of the service change] will probably be minimal. I think their share of the market is probably smaller” than its rivals.

“Fortunately for us, we have other bus lines that serve our destination, as well as Amtrak (train) service. There are other options to absorb that demand,” Schripsema said. “I don’t think we’re going to be underserved. It’s just, unfortunately, one less option.”

Plus, among people traveling in and out of mid-Michigan, “I’d say 90 percent of ours, particularly the visitor sector, is auto traffic,” Schripsema said. “Most of our visitors come from within a four-hour (driving time) radius of the greater Lansing area and most of it is driving.”

In a prepared statement, Megabus Director of Corporate Affairs Sean Hughes said the Paramus, N.J.-based bus line “is restructuring our network to reflect the changing travel patterns that we are experiencing due to historically low fuel prices, growing private and government subsidized inter-city coach operators, as well as rail services and low-cost airlines.”

Hughes did not provide any specific data to go along with his statement. According to their website, Megabus still operates a Detroit-to-Chicago route that includes a stop in Ann Arbor.

The service cut also came as Megabus downsized Chicago operations overall, shedding routes and employees there as a result, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Megabus, along with rival bus services and Amtrak, operated from the Capital Area Multimodal Gateway at 1240 S. Harrison Road in East Lansing. The facility is owned and managed by Lansing’s Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) on a plot of land owned by Michigan State University (MSU).

“We’re disappointed, obviously, but we understand the decision that Megabus made,” said Laurie Robison, CATA’s marketing director. “They indicated ridership was not where it needs to be to continue the service … [but for travelers] there are other options that are available to them through the Gateway as well.”

“We are not aware of any issues with the relationship between CATA, the facility and Megabus … we were told they loved the state-of-the art facility” opened by CATA in November 2015, Robison said. “It was the ridership.”

Schripsema said ticket pricing from rivals are “not much different than Megabus. I think the options are there; I think they’re reasonably-priced options for the folks that use the service.”

Megabus was known for select discount fares as low as $1 per day. Typical fares on that route are around $30 each way, a web price search found.

The ridership demographic most affected by the service loss may be discount-driven students at MSU. “With, basically, a student city of 50,000 folks, the bus is a popular form of transportation,” Schripsema said. “That is a big, significant ridership.”

MSU draws more students from Chicago’s home state of Illinois than from any other state outside of Michigan, according to MSU’s Office of the Registrar. In the fall of 2016, MSU had 1,663 students from Illinois, far ahead of runner-up California with 670 students.

Chicago is still served from greater Lansing by rail service via Amtrak and bus, via Greyhound Lines, Inc. and Owosso-based Indian Trails, Inc. All routes depart from the East Lansing transit center. The bus routes also stop at the CATA Transportation Center at 420 S. Grand Ave. in downtown Lansing, according to service websites.

“We’ve seen an increase in our ridership, ” said Chad Cushman, president of Indian Trails. “That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Megabus.”
“We’ve never necessarily considered Megabus as competition to our services,” Cushman said. “We have a lot of different stops between East Lansing and Chicago. We consider Amtrak and Greyhound to be more competition with Megabus than we were.”

Robison said she was unaware of whether CATA would seek a new tenant to replace Megabus at the facility, but questioned “whether Megabus could generate that kind of adequate traffic — if they can’t do it, could someone else do it?”

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Omar Sofradzija

Omar Sofradzija

Omar Sofradzija is an adjunct journalism instructor at Michigan State University. Prior to that, he was a columnist and reporter at the Las Vegas (Nev.) Review-Journal, where he covered the development and launch of that city's Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) bus rapid transit system and the Las Vegas Monorail.

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