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My First Trip Via Megabus

This post is about my first trip on Megabus, roundtrip from St. Louis to Chicago.

In January 2012 I emailed Megabus asking about making online reservations for a trip that would include my wheelchair. At that time there was only one way to do it, as this reply indicates:

Currently the only way to reserve for a special needs request is thru our toll free # at 877-463-6342. I am sorry this is uncomfortable for you but the good news is that you will be able to make this request online in the very near future. My understanding is that the developers of our website have made this feature a priority.

I’d explained my uneasiness with making phone calls, they don’t have a station like Greyhound & Amtrak.

In mid-June I was able to make online reservations for myself and my husband to visit Chicago last weekend. As promised in 2012, the website now allows me to indicate I’d need room for my wheelchair. I’ve been on Amtrak & Greyhound with the wheelchair, I didn’t know what to expect with Megabus, neither of us had used Megabus before.

To make the most of a 3-day weekend in Chicago we booked a bus leaving at 3:05am on Friday, August 1st (his birthday). A week before we got an email saying the departure would be delayed 15 minutes.

MegaBus on 14th Street
We arrived early, a Megabus was waiting at the stop on 14th Street
That bus headed to Memphis though
That bus headed to Memphis though
The low-tech ramp to get my chair inside the bus
Our bus arrived from Memphis, a low-tech ramp was unfolded to get my chair inside the bus
Like Greyhound, their buses have a section where two rows of seats slide to make room for a chair. They can't sell 3 seats as a result.
Like Greyhound, their buses have a section where two rows of seats slide to make room for a chair. They can’t sell 3 seats as a result. Amtrak doesn’t lose any seats to accommodate a wheelchair.
When we stopped I was able to look up the back stairs to see the skylight roof upstairs.
When we stopped I was able to look up the back stairs to see the skylight roof upstairs.
Many of us on the lower level had our phones plugged in. MegaBus includes free Wifi, I stayed on AT&T because I have an unlimited data plan.
Many of us on the lower level had our phones plugged in to overhead power. MegaBus includes free Wifi, I stayed on AT&T because I have an unlimited data plan.
We arrived in Chicago's South Canal St., near Union Station.
We arrived in Chicago’s South Canal St., near Union Station.

Others waiting with us on 14th Street didn’t like the new St. Louis stop being located on 14th Street, it used to be west of St. Louis’ Union Station, because of a lack of a parking lot. We walked to the stop from our loft. Via email:

Until **Monday** July 7th 2014, the Megabus stop for all arrivals and departures in St. Louis will be located West of Union Station on the East Side of 21st St near the intersection of Clark St and 21st St. The bus stop will not be in use after this date.

From **Monday** July 7th 2014 onwards, the megabus stop will be located on the Northbound side of S 14th Street, between Spruce Street and Clark Avenue.

The bus to Chicago originated in Dallas/Ft. Worth, with stops in Little Rock & Memphis, before coming to St. Louis. As such, many seats were taken. The bus had two drivers, they switched during the break halfway to Chicago.

The return bus had only one driver, who returned to Chicago. Next trip I’ll book a bus that isn’t coming from Memphis so it’ll be empty when we board, allowing my husband to sit across the aisle from me. It seemed like the trip up the drivers were speeding while the return trip the driver stuck to the speed limit. Both arrived basically on time.

When we rolled up to both buses I was greeted by name, they were expecting me. I wasn’t expecting such personal service for a low-cost carrier.

I still prefer rail travel, but Amtrak costs more and they’re currently doing track work, so Amtrak is using charter buses.

The cheapest dates to travel on Megabus, like airlines, is Tuesdays & Wednesdays. Glad to have another option to reach Chicago, Kansas City, and others.

— Steve Patterson

 

A Day Trip Down South

Last month the hubby and I decided to go town to Sainte Genevive, Missouri. I’d been once or twice twenty plus years ago, he’d never been. The fastest way there is I-55 south, but we took the long way heading south from downtown St. Louis on Jefferson Ave until it merges with South Broadway into St. Louis County. On highway 231 we passed Jefferson Barrack’s Cemetery, which we’ve seen before including a memorial service a few weeks earlier.    We were close to two parks we visited last year, Cliff Cave Park and Bee Tree Park.

We got to the end of 231, turning left (south) onto state highway 61/67. Very soon Siri is telling us to turn left for Kimswick, MO. Charming, we made a note to return for lunch or dinner sometime. We continue passing through Barnhart, Pevely, Herculaneum, Festus/Crystal City, happened on a charming old roadside park, before finally arriving in Sainte Genevive. The backroad journey took at least twice as long as the interstate, but it’s so much more interesting!

More after the pics…

Kimswick, Missouri
Vernacular buildings in historic Kimswick, Missouri, click image for more infomation
Highway 61 roadside park near Bloomsdale, MO
Highway 61 roadside park near Bloomsdale, MO
Fourche a du Clos Valley as seen from the highway 61 roadside park
Fourche a du Clos Valley as seen from the highway 61 roadside park, you can hear the traffic of I-55 below but you can’t see it. Click image for more info.
Sainte Genevive
Sainte Genevive
Sainte Genevive
Sainte Genevive lost a historic building in 1934 for a service station, which later became a firehouse, and is now a cafe.
View from the Chaumette tasting room
Stunning views at Chaumette Winery
I love this house on highway 61 in St. Mary, MO
I love this house on highway 61 in St. Mary, MO

Most of the Ste Genevive wineries are a long drive from the historic town, next time we’ll take I-55 so we have more time to explore, possibly staying overnight in one of the many choices for accommodations.

We’d decided to cross the Mississippi River and return to St. Louis via Illinois, but first we stopped in St. Mary where I fell in love with the house shown above. We crossed the river into Chester, IL and came north on Route 3 without stopping.  Very different terrain 0n the Illinois side. I love seeing these historic towns on a map, a nice grid of streets.

Have a great weekend, do something memorable!

— Steve Patterson

 

Chicago’s Taxicabs More Interesting Than St. Louis’ Taxicabs

June 3, 2014 Featured, Transportation, Travel Comments Off on Chicago’s Taxicabs More Interesting Than St. Louis’ Taxicabs

In a recent post I wondered if local taxicabs could be more whimsical to compete with the likes of Lyft, Uber, etc.  It’s true nobody hires a vehicle because of a pink mustache, but they’re distinctive. This past weekend we were in Chicago for a few days. We drove up and parked in the garage of the condo building where we stayed — $84 for 48 hours with no in/out privileges. We walked and used the bus but we also took four cab rides. Taxicabs are everywhere in Chicago, no need to call and walk — just walk to the street and hail one. At least where we were staying.

Of the hundreds & hundreds of taxicabs we saw, I think only 1-2 were the Ford Crown Victoria that’s so commonplace in St. Louis. No wonder really, the last Crown Vic was produced in September 2011. Though large vehicles, they’re not any easier for me to get in/out of the backseat than any other 4-door.

The Prius we rode in gets 40-50mpg vs 14mpg on a Ford Crown Vic
The Prius we rode in gets 40-50mpg vs 14mpg on a Ford Crown Vic

Of our four trips three of the four were in hybrids: Toyota Camry, Toyota Prius, and Ford C-Max. The fourth was a black town car that stopped for us. The most common taxicab vehicle was saw while in Chicago was the Toyota Prius. We also saw Ford Fusion Hybrid & Nissan Altima Hybrid. We saw quite a few of the modern/stylish VPG MV-1:

The styling looks like an SUV-ish riff on the traditional London cab, with a low-step-in (or roll aboard) flat floor and oodles of headroom. Dimensionally, it measures 8.0 inches shorter in length, 2.1 inches wider, and 18.2 inches taller than the Crown Vic. The rear doors swing open (90 degrees on the passenger side) to reveal a bench seat wide enough for three amply proportioned passengers. An optional ($349) rear-facing jump seat behind the driver accommodates a fourth, and standard anchoring plates are fitted to secure two wheelchairs, though locking down the second one precludes use of the right half of the bench seat. There is currently no provision for fitting a front passenger seat, though one is being considered, along with a passenger airbag. (Motor Trend)

I want to ride in one of these on our next visit in a few months.

It isn’t by chance that Chicago has so many hybrids, their approved vehicle list is either hybrids or CNG. Other creative taxicab examples in Chicago is using social media and free wifi:

In addition to tweeting, he also allows clients (or potential clients, as the case may be) to follow him on Google Latitude or Find My Friends so that people know wherever he is at any given time and can contact him when they need a ride. He offers free WiFi within his cab for iPhone and iPad users (“Don’t use your limited data!” he says), and plans to soon offer free WiFi for regular laptop users. Sometimes, as seen in the tweet above, Temuri gives discounts for his social media followers, and he always remembers who everyone is. (ArsTechnica)

The St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission doesn’t appear to have an approved vehicle list. I know St. Louis is a conservative town but more regulation to push taxicab companies into buying hybrid vehicles would likely prove better for the industry, the companies bottom line, and our air quality.

— Steve Pattersom

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Contactless Transit Smart Cards

On my first trip to Washington D.C. in August of 1990 I rode their Metro subway system. Even back then you could buy a card you’d swipe that would deduct the appropriate fare from your balance. It was quick and convenient because riders didn’t need to buy tickets each trip.  Daily riders could buy a monthly pass, but for less frequent riders this was wonderful.

Fast forward to today and technology has come a long way. Metro Saint Louis has been installing new equipment to prepare for a smart card system here.

On our recent trip to Chicago we each bought a new “Ventra” card to ride Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses:

Introducing Ventra, a convenient new payment system for the CTA and Pace that allows customers to pay for train and bus rides with the same payment methods they use for everyday purchases. Customers can easily manage their accounts online and choose from several different contactless payment methods:

  • Ventra Card: a transit + optional Debit MasterCard® that can be used for transit and everyday purchases
  • Ventra Tickets: single-ride and One-day passes
  • Personal, contactless, bank-issued credit and debit cards can be used for transit
  • Eventually, compatible smartphones

With Ventra, travel throughout the Chicago area is more convenient and efficient than ever before.

We didn’t buy them in advance, I just went in to the CVS* two blocks from our hotel. Each card cost $5 but after registering by phone or online that becomes transit credit. When purchased I added $5 to each. Spent $10/card for $10 of transit credit per card.

My online Ventra statement
My online Ventra statement

I loved being able to check my balance online and see a history of the bus routes we rode.  Like St. Louis, a one ride trip is $2, but their transfer is just 25¢ compared to $1 here. But pricing is getting off the subject…

We didn’t see anyone paying cash or swiping older reader cards, making boardings very quick. Here many customers, myself included, pay with cash. The Ventra system launched in Chicago last year, more on that shortly.

I’ve been wanting to try a smart card system for a while now but it wasn’t until we were on our last bus ride to Union Station that I felt like I got the hang of just how to tap the card in front of the sensor to get it to register. Previous rides I thought I had it but the driver would tell me to try again. Part of my problem was trouble seeing the screen from a seated position in my wheelchair. We both had trouble at first, but imagine every rider having trouble. The Ventra launch didn’t go smoothly:

 Compared to other smart transit systems, Ventra is logging a fairly negative public review. Unlike Ventra, Boston’s contactless electronic CharlieCard system faced no huge bouts of complaints upon implementation in late 2006 and early 2007. In fact, despite minor problems, customers lauded the system. (Chicago’s New Smart Cards Make Commuting Even Harder – Mashable, December 2013)

This fall, you see, after a series of delays, the city brought online a new fare payment system called “Ventra” in which customers tap “smart cards” against electronic readers at bus entrances and train station turnstiles. Only it turns out these cards are not so smart. Half the time, tap after tap after tap, the damned things don’t work, and the bus driver just exasperatedly waves you through. Although it hasn’t been as much fun for the passengers who exited the bus through the front door and discovered that, if their purses or backpacks brushed too close to the reader, they were charged twice. (Chicago’s ‘Smart Card’ Debacle and Privatisatiom – The Nation, December 2013)

Pace, suburban Chicago’s bus system which is separate from the CTA is now online with Ventra. Metra, the commuter rail system will be next. Once Metra is accepting the Ventra card, commuters using the three separate transit systems in the greater Chicago area can finally pay using the same card, rather than manage separate forms of payment for each.

In St. Louis, Metro is working with Madison County Transit on the smart card system for our region. Hopefully they’ve learned from the mistakes made in Chicago.  I don’t know if the cards used in St. Louis can do double duty as pre-paid debit cards. In Chicago’s system you can also use a contactless credit/debit card. I’ve never been offered such a card before,  but I think they’ll become more common in a few years.

Each smart card has an embedded computer chip that can hold passes and cash value. Unlike most credit cards, smart cards are not magnetic and do not require “swiping.” Equipped with antennae, the cards allow contactless communication so customers can simply wave or tap the card on the validator or farebox. Validators at MetroLink stations will respond with a green light and fareboxes on board MetroBus will beep to indicate the fare is accepted and has been deducted from the card. (Metro)

— Steve Patterson

* Full disclosure: I’m a own a few shares of CVS

 

Sidewalks In Chicago

Last weekend my fiancé and I went to Chicago for a 3-day weekend. I’ve been numerous times since my stroke 6+ years ago, including last August, but each of those visits was by car with me as passenger or driver. This trip we took Amtrak so I could use my wheelchair since our primary reason for going was to see the Chicago Auto Show. I know here in St. Louis my chair can easily get stuck in just a tiny amount of snow so I was nervous about going to Chicago where they had lots more snow. As soon as we exited Chicago’s Union Station I realized how much Chicago values all modes of travel: auto, bike, bus, foot, chair.

Sidewalks, roads, ADA ramps connecting sidewalks and crosswalks were all cleared.
Sidewalks, roads, ADA ramps connecting sidewalks and crosswalks were all cleared. This photo taken at Harrison & Wabash, click for map.
A protected bike lane on S. Dearborn was cleared of snow.
A protected bike lane on S. Dearborn was cleared of snow.
All the bus stops/shelters had been cleared as well allowing us the use various CTA bus lines
All the bus stops/shelters had been cleared as well allowing us the use various CTA bus lines

You might be thinking “Sure, in the Loop. What about in the neighborhoods?” Friends picked us up for dinner Saturday night, driving us for Lebanese at Semiramis, located miles away from downtown at 4639 N Kedzie Ave.  The sidewalks, ramps & crosswalks were also cleared there.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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