CLEVELAND, Ohio — Megabus, the discount bus line that once operated numerous routes from Cleveland, briefly returned to Ohio earlier this year before ceasing operations.
Intercity bus service in Ohio, meanwhile, remains below pre-pandemic levels, although service is increasing across the Midwest, with new routes from companies like FlixBus, the German company that Greyhound bought in 2021.
In Cleveland, intercity bus travel is primarily limited to Greyhound, with Brook Park’s Baron’s Bus serving more than a dozen college towns and mostly rural destinations throughout Ohio and the surrounding states.
The state of intercity bus travel in Ohio and across the country following the pandemic is outlined in a new report, New Directions: 2023 Outlook for the Intercity Bus Industry in the United States, produced by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago became .
The report’s author, Joseph Schwieterman, estimates that bus service in the United States has recovered to about 70 to 75 percent of its pre-pandemic levels, with service returning faster in the South than in other parts of the country.
Cleveland, along with the rest of the Midwest, is building following the dramatic downsizing of Megabus, known for its yellow-and-blue double-decker buses and $1 fares, popular with college students and others looking for cheap, accessible transportation still out of service.
At one point, Megabus served as many as a dozen destinations from Cleveland, including Chicago, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati, New York City, and others. Although numerous routes were canceled prior to 2020, the coronavirus pandemic was the final blow to Megabus in Cleveland and throughout the region.
According to Schwieterman, Megabus has cautiously rebuilt part of its network in recent years, particularly in the north-east.
Earlier this year, Megabus returned to the Columbus market in partnership with Kentucky’s Miller Transportation, offering services to Chicago, Dayton and Elkhart, Indiana. This partnership only lasted about a month and ended abruptly in late February, although it’s unclear why. A Megabus customer service representative, when asked about Columbus service, said, “We have severed communications with Miller Transportation.”
A call to Miller went unanswered; Megabus also didn’t respond to a request for comment on possible future growth in Ohio.
Meanwhile, FlixBus — the German company that Greyhound bought in 2021 — has opened a branch in Columbus and offers once-daily service from downtown and the Ohio State University campus to Chicago and Milwaukee, with stops in Dayton, Indianapolis and Lafayette, Indiana. According to Schwieterman, FlixBus serves a similar demographic to Megabus — younger, generally wealthier, and more tech-savvy than the average Greyhound customer.
FlixBus also makes less frequent use of traditional bus terminals, similar to the Megabus model that typically picks up passengers at the curb. That trend worries Schwieterman, who says bus passengers — especially those transferring between routes — need access to covered waiting areas, restrooms and other amenities.
Greyhound recently sold 33 terminals, including its Cleveland station, to a Connecticut real estate company, which has already put at least two of the buildings up for sale. The ownership transfers do not bode well for city bus passengers, who are increasingly being relocated from long-standing downtown train stations in Cincinnati and other cities.
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Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul’s School of Public Service, said he expects FlixBus to eventually expand into Cleveland as well. The Cleveland to Chicago route in particular requires additional service as Greyhound and Amtrak provide the only ground transportation between the two Great Lakes cities.
“It’s really remarkable how limited ground transportation options are between these two cities,” he said.
FlixBus, now with routes across the US and Canada, is the most likely to step in.
“FlixBus wants to become the dominant US operator,” Schwieterman said, which is why the company bought Greyhound.
“They felt Greyhound would accelerate that process,” he said. “What we don’t know is if they will keep the two different brands. We’re all waiting to see what happens.”
The two companies recently merged booking platforms, allowing Greyhound and FlixBus tickets to be purchased on each other’s websites. Additionally, Greyhound recently introduced several new amenities inherited from FlixBus, including a seat reservation option for travelers who want to select their seat in advance. Greyhound travelers can also now purchase an empty secondary seat at a reduced price.
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