Monday, October 23, 2017

To St. Paul by Megabus

The "all-weather" (actually completely open-air) Megabus "terminal" in Chicago.
Last weekend Trooper and I took a bus trip. From Chicago to St. Paul. Via Megabus.

I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it was necessary if Places We Have Peed: Traveling in North America with Service Dogs is to have any hands-on authority. Too many unpleasant memories of intercity bus travel as an impoverished student. But the book covers all modes of travel—air, road, train, cruise ship. In-person research is a must.

The beginning was inauspicious. Four times I asked Megabus’ customer service for the itinerary of intermediate stops and if I’d be able to take Trooper off the bus at one of them for a pee. Each time I received a different response.

One rep said, “Unfortunately, we do not have such itinary [sic]. “We’re sorry but we do not have authorization to let anyone off at locations other than our designated bus stops which are for drop-offs and pickups only.”

The second said, “Drivers are permitted to make stops when the bus ride is 8 hours or more. If the route you’re traveling is less than that, the driver is not allowed to stop.”

The third said, “Just ask the driver to stop when the dog must go out.”

I asked for a supervisor, who responded:

Trooper had his own ticketed seat on the Megabus.
“I do apologize for the incorrect information being sent prior. Breaks are usually on trips five hours or more but the location and when is to the discretion of the driver. On your trip you are able to ask your driver if they would be able to make a rest stop soon.”

With some asperity, I emailed the company’s Americans with Disabilities Act compliance department, asking where the intermediate stops were.

Milwaukee and Madison, she said. Or elsewhere on the route if needed, for I would be a passenger with special needs, and all I would have to do is ask the driver. And sorry, she added, for the confusion.

(I am not dumping on Megabus' customer service in particular. Customer service is like that everywhere. These people have no idea how to respond to questions, such as those about service dog relief, that aren't in their carefully assembled scripts.)

When I made that trip last weekend, the Milwaukee stop wasn’t so hot, because there’s no grass in the brand-new intermodal station area—just concrete and gravel. Trooper will pee on hard surfaces if he absolutely has to, but like most dogs he prefers natural plumbing such as trees, bushes and grass.

Madison was fine, because the stop is in the middle of downtown with lawns and brush close by.

I was astonished, however, that the ADA person did not tell me (nor did the Megabus web site say) that the bus called at a big service plaza with a fast food restaurant on the interstate just outside Mauston, two-thirds of the way to St. Paul. There is lots and lots of grass at that 25-minute stop.

As for the ride itself, buses are buses and their quarters are cramped, but it was OK. The bathroom aboard the bus did have plenty of room for both Trooper and me. He slept atop a baby blanket on the seat next to me. All bus companies by law allow service dogs to ride free under the legs of the handler, but I bought another adult ticket for Trooper so he could have his own space—on the floor if need be. The driver didn’t care.

Trooper had his own seat on the train, too.
The only real negative I carried away from the trip is the Megabus “terminal” in Chicago, a lonely curbside stop at Polk and Clinton in the middle of a deserted, mostly industrial area. There are no benches and no shelters. I would have hated to wait for that St. Paul bus in driving rain or sleet. Low-income travelers get no respect.

I’m glad I made the trip. And gladder that I don’t have to do it again.

P.S. We came home on Amtrak’s Empire Builder. More expensive than the bus—but much more comfortable, with lots of room to get up and shake a leg. Plenty of pee stops, too.

1 comment:

  1. I have traveled by bus from the Detroit area to Baraga a couple of times,not a great trip and I was alone! You are a brave person, say hi to Trooper.