116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE - Bundled up outside a Megabus stop in Coralville before the Thanksgiving break, Samantha Miller learned the discount bus line will be dropping its route between Chicago and Omaha - and thus its service to Iowa - in the New Year.
'It's kind of a bummer,” said Miller, 29, a University of Iowa graduate living in California whose family is in Iowa City and whose boyfriend's family is in Omaha. 'There will be fewer opportunities to commute from Iowa City to the Omaha area without having to rent a car.”
Megabus - a decade-old New Jersey-based express transport company serving more than 100 cities and university campuses in the United States and Canada - in 2010 debuted its route from Chicago to Des Moines via Iowa City.
The company, which piggybacked on the United Kingdom brand but is run through Coach USA and Coach Canada, expanded its Chicago-Des Moines route in 2011 - stretching service to Omaha and upping departures and arrivals in Des Moines and Iowa City.
At the time of the expansion, Megabus offered 1,000 free seats on trips to and from Omaha. And, on occasion, trips through the state can cost as little as $1.
The bus service previously served travelers at the Court Street Transportation Center, 100 E. Court St. in Iowa City. Last year, it moved its stops to the Coralville Transit Intermodal Facility at 906 Quarry Road at the Iowa River Landing.
But now the bargain bus service through Iowa will end Jan. 9 as part of a reorganization of its Midwest network, according to spokesman Sean Hughes.
Executives are reducing the Megabus Chicago operation due, in part, to a 'challenging economy” that has low fuel prices increasing vehicle and airline competition.
'We are facing a tough, competitive market, and these changes have involved difficult decisions affecting the personal future of a number of our employees,” Hughes said in a statement. 'However, we need to take these steps to ensure that we have a safe, sustainable, and stronger business for the future that can continue to offer employment and serve our customers and communities.”
More than 100 employees will be affected by the reduction in Chicago - mostly drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers. Hughes said Megabus doesn't employ anyone in Iowa, and has started discussions with union representatives and those employees who will be affected.
'As a caring and responsible business, we will meet all of our obligations to our people as well as liaising with union and local government representatives,” Hughes said.
All employees will qualify for severance, while many will have the option to transfer - as Megabus is offering new Midwest hubs in Wisconsin and Ohio 'to more effectively service customer demand.”
Riders in the Iowa City area said they're surprised the service wasn't feeling enough demand in Iowa. Among out-of-state students enrolled at the UI, a majority come from Illinois.
With 6,464 Illinois residents enrolled at the campus this fall, that state boasts more than eight times as many UI non-resident students as its closest rival - Minnesota, with 775 UI students, according to the registrar's office.
At Iowa State University in Ames - a 40 minute drive from the Des Moines-based Megabus stop - 3,491 students enrolled from Illinois in the last academic year.
'There are a lot of students who go to the university who come from Chicago,” said UI freshman Miguela Shine, 18, before hopping on a Megabus toward home for the holiday. 'Now, in order to get home, they'll have to find different means.”
Shine said she hasn't thought through her alternatives. There are other mass transit options, she said.
'But they're more expensive,” Shine said.
Burlington Trailways is one company that offers routes between Iowa City and Chicago. A Trailways ticket from Iowa City to Chicago on Wednesday cost $43, according to its website. A trip from Des Moines to Chicago cost $52 the same day.
And, on occasion, the buses fill up and the options are scarce.
It's the reduction in options that worries Miller - who lives with her boyfriend in Redwood City, Calif., but likes to hit both Iowa City and Omaha when they visit the Midwest.
Megabus, she said, has been an 'easy way to split the holidays.”
UI freshman Kaitlyn Danielson, 19, from Le Mars in northwest Iowa, thought she'd found in Megabus an easy way to save her parents hundreds of miles and hours on the road.
Without a car at college, Danielson's plan was to take Megabus to Omaha and meet her parents - who would have driven about two hours to pick her up, saving them about a five-hour drive to Iowa City.
'It is very convenient,” Danielson said, noting the drop in service could affect her ability to get home. 'It's going to be more stressful planning.”
Hughes said Megabus could at some point resume its service to Iowa.
'We'll keep an eye out, and if we feel there's demand there, we might consider coming back,” he said. 'But, right now, we have no plans to.”
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