When is a Megabus not a Megabus?
When it's the 4:30 p.m. bus from the Memorial Union to Chicago and it's a Van Galder.
Transportation companies subcontract all the time - many connecting flights are on carriers hired by the major airlines. But Megabus - a national company that touts its low fares and started serving Madison a few years ago - failed to tell this unfortunate traveler that she would be riding a Van Galder bus when she made phone reservations on the 4:30 bus to Chicago on April 12. So there I stood, along with another Chicago-bound soul, waiting for the distinctive Megabus double-decker while the Wisconsin-based Van Galder loaded passengers and left the Memorial Union.
The bus driver never looked our way or asked whether we were waiting to go to Chicago. There was no sign on the bus indicating Megabus passengers should board. Half an hour later we called Megabus and, eventually, got the bad news: The Van Galder had been our bus. The next bus was at 9 p.m., too late for my purposes.
Megabus conducts most of its business online. In fact, passengers can't board if they don't already have tickets (I found that out the hard way, too, when I tried to get on the 3 p.m. bus to Chicago). When you purchase tickets online the schedule does identify the carrier. But the email confirmation does not.
When I called Megabus the next day, the customer service rep had never even heard of Van Galder. I explained the issue was larger than my own problem: I didn't want others to miss their bus like I did. He suggested I file a formal complaint and told me I would hear back within seven to 10 days. I heard nothing.
I finally contacted the Chicago firm handling media for the bus company. About 10 days later I got a call from an operations manager in the corporate office of Megabus in New Jersey.
Anna Levy acknowledged that mistakes had been made. "The Van Galder thing concerns me," she said.
"The driver should have most definitely announced he was running the 4:30 Megabus to Chicago," she said. The company also needs to highlight the fact that Van Galder regularly runs that bus to Chicago, she added. "We need to put that in our confirmation and boldly on our website."
She also offered me a free bus ride for a future trip. I politely declined.