With the release of the exam schedule and Spring Break creeping around the corner, I would suggest intercity bus travel as an economical and entertaining alternative to get you to your destination. At least twice a semester, I make the 864-mile trip to Tennessee via the “Megabus experience,” often for less than $10. Originally based out of the UK, Megabus has transported 20 million customers to over 100 locations in 35 states. Fares on the 20 ton, double-decker buses are as low as $1, plus a 50 cent reservation fee. Their buses hold up to 81 passengers and offer free Wi-Fi, power outlets, and clean bathrooms.
The double-decker’s fuel consumption is 0.002 gallons per passenger mile. In other terms, I am getting the equivalent of 500 miles per gallon. Five cross country bus trips saved over eleven barrels of oil compared to driving and over four barrels compared to flying. The car maintenance savings are also significant. Taking the bus contains a multiplier effect on protecting the environment. The hundreds in financial savings will fund a small solar panel array, and some of the fellow riders provide me invaluable tips on green building and gardening.
Like any deviation from a social norm, I faced criticism for my transportation decisions. Is taking the bus really worth your time? Considering a flight usually costs me $350, the twenty hour bus ride was the equivalent of a $9 an hour job consisting of reading, sleeping, and taking breaks in major cities. I can already hear myself 50 years from now: “Back in my day, you only needed $10 to get across the country.” Financial cost was not the only reason that made the trip worthwhile. I used to head out of Troy at four in the morning by myself, with my hands on the wheel and my mind on the road. At my destination, I would jump out of bed thinking I was still driving. Now I get to surf the internet and meet new people. The distractions of texting and rubbernecking on road trips are harmless on a bus. When making the switch to alternative energy and transportation, it is important to remember that prices are just one factor of the overall social, environmental, and economical cost.
Intercity mass transit systems are growing in popularity as well. Buses.org reports that “curbside operators” such as Megabus, BoltBus, and Peter Pan Lines grew 32.1 percent in 2011. Megabus has recently extended service into the Southeast, Texas, California, and Las Vegas. Students and other young individuals are identifying more with the tablets and smartphones they can plug in the bus and less with the individuality of a personal automobile. Although it might not be as cool as owning a muscle car, I can get from Albany to Tennessee on less than four gallons of fuel. Now I just need to bike to the hubs, since biking gets the equivalent of 1000 mpg. The media has extensively covered the supply of fossil fuel and renewable energy, but little attention is devoted to the benefits of reducing energy demand. Megabus has created over 500 jobs nationwide and will remain a shining example of an affordable and sustainable operation that was previously thought impossible.