On a blistering afternoon in August, a line of Washington, D.C.-bound Megabus passengers at the discount carrier’s curbside bus stop, in the figurative shadow of 30th Street Station, are squinting into the brutal sun. A BoltBus employee, who does not wish to be named, says a co-worker already passed out from heat exhaustion today; colleagues took her to a nearby bank branch to cool off. And Temple University English major Jeffrey Jenkins — who is, like many college students, a Megabus regular — is trying to stay cool in the shade of a stone rail viaduct nearby.
“Last week, there was a bus that was supposed to go to D.C. and it was raining,” says Jenkins. Even huddling under the patchy shelter of the viaduct, “we were still getting rained on,” he says, adding that he still rides Megabus because it’s “cheaper than Greyhound.”
Of course, one reason those fares are so low is the lack of shelters or facilities of any kind. And it looks like that won’t change anytime soon, despite the surging popularity of discount bus lines, which served 28,000 passengers a week out of the 3100 block of JFK Boulevard last year. On the contrary, even though more than two-thirds of Bolt and Mega passengers are aged 18 to 29 — and nearly half are college students — neighboring Drexel University wants the bus stops gone.
Drexel owns the land on both the north and south sides of the block. It has big plans for the space, which is currently home to a parking lot and the former offices of newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin, as part of an “Innovation Neighborhood” to include high-density mixed-use buildings.
“As the Innovation Neighborhood takes shape, it is our concern that private bus operators’ current location on JFK Boulevard will deter entrepreneurs and companies from wanting to locate their businesses there,” says Drexel spokesperson Lori Doyle.
That creates a conundrum: The city authorized the bus pickup locations, which planners say are ideally located near SEPTA and Amtrak service, and doesn’t want to relocate them. Nor does the city intend to invest in improvements for the burgeoning transit hub. “The bus companies are private businesses, and the city doesn’t currently have an interest in public dollars being spent to support their infrastructure needs,” says Andrew Stober, chief of staff at the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.
Of course, neither bus line could erect sidewalk shelters without the adjacent landowner’s consent, which is evidently not forthcoming.
“If folks don’t like standing in the elements to catch a bus, there are other options. It’s the trade-off for spending $5 or $20 to travel hundreds of miles,” says Stober. He acknowledges that he himself stopped using Megabus for trips to New York after being caught in the rain for hours a few years ago. Now, he opts for SEPTA and New Jersey Transit instead.
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