COLUMBIA — Megabus, a passenger bus service that operates in 17 Midwest cities and eight West coast cities, will now offer services out of Columbia to Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago effective March 13, the company’s president and chief operating officer, Dale Moser, announced Thursday morning.
Megabus, a subsidiary of Coach USA, chose Columbia for its location and higher-education institutions.
“It offers opportunity with the university and the other colleges right there. We truly believe it has some really good upside potential,” Moser said. “It’s a perfect fit for our model.”
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city plans to work with officials in St. Louis on cross-promotion between Union Station, Columbia’s downtown and certain festivals.
“We think it will be good for our community,” Steiner said.
Megabus will pick up and drop off passengers at Wabash Station at 126 N. Tenth St., which serves as a hub for city buses. The bus line serves seven states in the Midwest; Kansas City is the western terminal.
Megabus operates on a low-overhead business model that advertises rates as low as $1. An online check of fares on Wednesday found a $48 ticket for a trip from Kansas City to St. Louis on Wednesday and return to Kansas City on Thursday.
Megabus operates exclusively online — the passenger books the ticket online and prints it.
The sooner a fare is booked, the cheaper the ticket, Steiner said.
“The benefit to Columbia is the possibility of increased tourism,” Steiner said. “But we’ll have to do some marketing work to make that happen.”
She said the Visitors Bureau currently has no plans to cross-promote with Kansas City or Chicago.
“I think what we first have to do is wait for them to start their operations,” she said. “Right now we’re in the exploration stage.”
Megabus could provide competition for other Columbia transportation services, such as Greyhound and MO-X.
“A lot of times when another bus company comes into a market, it actually increases the number of customers who ride the bus,” said Dustin Clark, a spokesman for Greyhound. “If the pie overall is bigger, then our piece of the pie gets bigger.”
Greyhound, located at 611 Big Bear Boulevard off Missouri 763, used to operate downtown. Its former station was at Tenth and Cherry streets, where CC’s City Broiler is located.
The competitors have their differences, though. Greyhound’s buses sometimes feature stops, and MO-X will pick up people anywhere in Columbia and drive them to the Kansas City and St. Louis airports. Greyhound and MO-X both have offices in Columbia; Megabus will not.
Steiner said she doesn’t think Megabus’ arrival in Columbia will affect the current airport debate about acquiring a service to and from Chicago because businessmen, the primary market of those flying to Chicago from Columbia, most likely won’t hop on a bus to Chicago.
“It is good to have quality competition in the market,” Steiner said of Megabus’ arrival. “Your preference is always that somebody who lives here, spends their money here, contributes to the community is going to get the lion share of the market because that’s good for the community.”