In this previous column, I wrote about one of Chicago's cheapest travel options, Megabus, and how my Memphis fiancee and I use this service to see each other several times per year. So far, our experiences had been great, and we had nothing but praise for Megabus as a great travel option for those in long distance relationships, and anyone in general. However, the episode my fiancee went through the last time she visited left us feeling sour.
My fiancee's most recent trip ended with a departure on Megabus back to Tennessee on Sunday, January 3, after New Year's. It proved to be a very popular reservation. The trip was scheduled to depart at 11A, just like every other daytime departure from Chicago to Memphis. The morning was a typical frozen Chicago morning, about ten degrees with a good stiff breeze. As we stood in the cold starting at about 10:30, the crowd for the Memphis trip started to grow in anticipation of the bus showing up any moment. But the minutes dragged, and the bus wasn't there. Finally, the bus came at about 10:55, and by this time, there were dozens of people--a conservative estimate would be 50--on the sidewalk a block away from Union Station ready to load their luggage into the storage compartment near the back of the bus and board already. The driver, however, had other ideas.
"No one is getting on the bus until I say so!" the female driver bellowed. Folks young and old shivered and shook as the driver asserted her control. What put her in such a horrible mood is anyone's guess, but the fact was, many, many people were waiting to get on this warm bus and get out of the damn cold, and she was on a power trip. As the patrons gathered around the luggage compartment, the driver refused to start loading the luggage until we all eased the crowding by backing up toward the sidewalk. The problem was, there were so many people that there was hardly any sidewalk to back up on. Shouts of "Hurry up!" and "Come on!" started to pop up, and my diabetic fiancee started to complain about losing feeling in her feet. Others were complaining about the cold as well. In all, it was about forty minutes after the bus arrived that the driver finally started letting people on the bus. Her attitude throughout the whole ordeal was atrocious, and according to my fiancee, she didn't improve after departure, and her relief driver was also in a foul mood. People were calling the Megabus customer service number as we stood there wondering what was wrong with this driver. And my fiancee e-mailed a letter of complaint to Megabus upon her arrival, which was answered with a generic "we have forwarded your concerns"-type form letter.
It appears that Megabus has to realize its growth and act accordingly. The drivers need to be re-trained on the matter of customer service. They can't have drivers treating patrons like preschoolers, berating them in threatening tones when those patrons rightfully wonder why boarding in ten degree weather is taking so long. It's understandable that the large number of customers for a given trip may shake up a driver temporarily, as he or she may wonder how to go about loading so much luggage and getting so many people on board. But it's no excuse for the driver turning to rude behavior and brusque commands to handle the situation. Megabus can look forward to a large number of angry e-mails in the future if the company doesn't figure out a better way to deal with its growth.