Is MegaBus a High Speed Rail alternative or a ridership canary?

This post is a quickie from economist Mary Parry, and I’m not sure if I am being fair to what he is actually saying here, but this is what he says:

Megabus is a great example of a competitive, flexible, low-cost (sometimes free), consumer-driven, market-based solution to inter-city transportation that has thrived without any government subsidies, tax breaks or taxpayer funding. Contrast that alternative to government transportation options like Amtrak and high-speed rail proposals that are the opposite: non-competitive, inflexible, high-cost, politician-driven, and not market-based, requiring massive amounts of taxpayer funding and subsidies.

He starts out with talking about Megabus’s free ticket promotions, and says that Amtrak has never given away tickets. Not sure if they have, but regional metro agencies do so routinely as a matter of promoting their service. I’m not sure that matters all that much.

The real question is whether Perry is right in that MegaBus would be a good alternative to building billions of HSR in California.

If you look at the information in the CAHSRA business plan (pdf link), despite all the ballyhoo about “taking cars off the road”, most of the market capture of other high speed rail companies comes from airline travel:

Voila Capture119

Yes, the car mode share shrinks, but the air mode share really shrinks. It would be really interesting to if there were Megabus type services in parallel with European HSR and what happened to those businesses when the HSR got built.

Remember that it is possible for total car usage to go up if aggregate travel demand goes up, even as mode share shrinks. So we might not be taking cars off the road, but putting fewer cars on the road in the future than if we didn’t provide the HSR. Those are somewhat things analytically.

However, Megabus had a West Coast Line they closed in 2008. Here’s why:

When asked for a comment, Dale Moser, president and COO of, offered the following statement to Suite101 Budget Travel:

“Due to ridership growth trends, no longer serves the West Coast. We take to different markets and try to create positive ridership trends and if we can’t we move on to new markets. As’s service continues to thrive in the Midwest and the Northeast looks forward to the possibility of returning to the West Coast should there be adequate demand.”

So the California Business Plan is predicting a lot of passengers by 2040:

Voila Capture120

So currently the LA to SF corridor does not have sufficient demand for MegaBus service for the company to keep it rolling. But it does have sufficient demand to make a HSR company $2 billion (am I reading that right?) in revenue in another 30 years.

Proponents will tell me that HSR is so much better than MegaBus that the services are simply not comparable. I’m not sure what to think here.