Shemekia Benn shrugged off a five-hour wait on a bench at a Downtown Memphis public transit center, where she passed the time with her teenage son and daughter, surrounded by suitcases and backpacks.
The 37-year-old Atlanta resident paid $72 for a 21-hour, 30-minute odyssey to bring son Walter and daughter Brekaydra home to Atlanta from a summer visit with their father in Dallas. The same one-way tickets could have cost $387 on Greyhound, Benn said.
At least the Benns were underneath an awning shielding them from the midmorning sun, which was more than most people waiting to catch the Megabus could say.
Megabus, an interstate, mostly express motor coach service owned by Britain’s Stagecoach Group, came to Memphis in 2010. It keeps prices low by having low overhead, which means no roof overhead at bus stops in many cities. The Memphis stop is between St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and The Pyramid.
With nine destinations served out of Memphis, Megabus has turned the sidewalks of Overton Avenue between Main and Second into a virtual bus station during the busy summer travel season.
Riders clutching suitcases queue up on the sidewalks to board the buses, first come, first served. Arriving passengers camp out, awaiting connections to distant cities, in bus shelters, on sidewalks and inside the Memphis Area Transit Authority’s William Hudson Transit Center at 444 N. Main.
Megabus stops have come under fire and been forced to move in some cities. Manhattan neighbors didn’t like their streets becoming bus stops. Christiansburg, Virginia protested a Megabus stop that was close to a school. Houston motorists complained about traffic snarls caused by the virtual bus stop.
Officials in Memphis and at New Jersey-based Megabus have heard no complaints here. It helps that there are few neighbors in the Pinch historic district, but that could change as St. Jude expands and Bass Pro Shops opens a Pyramid superstore.
The Memphis Area Transit Authority polices the area because Overton is heavily traveled by MATA buses headed to and from the Hudson Transit Center.
MATA interim general manager Tom Fox said Megabus was allowed to use the Hudson center’s bus lanes when it began Memphis operations, but dual use by Megabus and MATA buses proved unwieldy.
MATA’s airport area transit center, conversely, was built to be shared by MATA and Greyhound. Greyhound contributed $2.5 million toward construction and pays 76 percent of operating costs of the MATA-owned facility, Fox said.
Downtown, MATA built bus shelters on Overton for Megabus passengers. Under an informal agreement, Megabus pays MATA $2,400 a month to defray MATA expenses such as security and litter pickup, Fox said.
While this has been a summer of controversy for vehicle-for-hire services Lyft and Uber, Megabus doesn’t fall under the same city ordinance, said Memphis permits-licenses administrator Aubrey Howard. Lyft and Uber provide taxicab-like services through Smartphone applications. They have been deemed out of compliance with city rules.
Howard said the city defers to the federal government to regulate interstate buses.
Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris said he wasn’t aware of issues with the bus stop. “Generally speaking, I like more alternatives and more options for people to be able to travel to Memphis and to Downtown,” Morris said.
Kathy Evans, 44, said things are tough all over for Megabus riders. She waited beneath a highway overpass in pouring rain to catch a 2:45 a.m. Megabus from St. Louis. Upon arrival in Memphis, she settled in to a MATA bus shelter on Overton for a 4 and 1/2 hour wait for the Atlanta bus.
“It’s affordable, but there’s a consequence to it. You’ve got to be outside in the elements,” Evans said.