With my girlfriend having sold her car after a broken timing belt damaged the engine head, we needed to find alternate transportation back to Columbus last month to attend the Ohio Film + Music Festival. We ended up settling on Megabus, which we had taken to Boston the previous fall, and I was surprised to find how many people in both New York and Columbus had never heard of the company. Much like the ill-fated Skybus, Megabus uses tiered fares, with one-way tickets starting at $1 and increasing in price as more tickets are sold. Going to and from Ohio requires switching busses in Pittsburgh, so while we ended up paying $41 each for the round-trip, it is possible for the early bird to travel to and from Columbus, Cincinnati or Cleveland for about $5 (there is a 50¢ reservation fee).
And for those acquainted with the unpleasantries of old-fashioned bus travel, Megabus is a big step up. The bus is equipped with electrical outlets and somewhat spotty wi-fi for computer use, as well as comfortable seats and a restroom. The ride to Pittsburgh is about seven hours, while the bus to Cleveland takes another two and a half hours. The bus ride to Columbus is almost four hours, and that bus continues on to Cincinnati, adding another couple hours onto the travel time. The tricky part is coordinating your rides to switch in Pittsburgh. If you are going to Cleveland, there are two choices that make sense: you can leave New York at 11:15pm and travel overnight so that you arrive at 6:55am the next day, in time to make the 7:30 bus to Cleveland, or you can take the 6:50am bus out of New York, arrive in Pittsburgh at 2:30pm, then take the 6:00pm bus to Cleveland. If you are going to Columbus or Cincinnati, your itinerary is clearer: take the 6:50am bus out of New York and catch the 3:30 bus heading to Columbus and then on to Cincy.
Coming back from Cleveland is quite a bit easier. If you take the 7:30am bus out of Cleveland, you arrive at 10:35am, in time to get an 11:00am bus to New York. If you catch a bus at noon, you get to Pittsburgh at 3:05 and can catch a 4:40 bus back to the Big Apple. Traveling from Cincy and Columbus, there is no way to avoid a long spell in Pittsburgh. You’re going to have to take the 6:30am bus out of Cincinnati, which stops in Columbus at 8:55 and arrives in Pittsburgh at 12:45pm. You’ll then have to kill time until the 4:40 bus back to New York.
Fortunately, the Pittsburgh stop is pretty much in the middle of the city, in front of the David Lawrence Convention Center, so there are ways to spend your layover. We found the Sharp Edge Bistro up the block, at 922 Penn Avenue, which had a good beer selection, decent food—the pretzel appetizer was the highlight—free wi-fi, and were cool with us hanging out for a couple hours after we finished our meal. There’s also Eide’s Entertainment, a store containing two floors of comics, records and other pop culture ephemera, nearby at 1121 Penn Avenue. So if you can get a ticket cheap enough to make the extra time spent traveling worth it, it’s not like you have to just stand around for hours.