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Megabus offers dirt-cheap fares to several cities

When you pay the adult cash fare, the cost of a round trip to Pittsburgh on Mid-Mon Valley Transit Authority buses is $7.

When you park-and-ride at the lot along Route 51 in Large or at Century III Mall, the cost of a round trip to Pittsburgh on Port Authority buses is $6.50.

If you ride the comparatively new Megabus service, which has made Pittsburgh one of its operating hubs, and if you book early enough, the cost of a roundtrip to Toronto, Canada, can be as low as $2.

Although my fare to Toronto was $1 on a recent trip, the return fare to Pittsburgh was $3 because I booked later than the first several people. Oh, yeah, a "processing fee" of 50 cents brought the total to $4.50.

You read correctly.

It's possible to make a 700-mile roundt rip to Toronto on privately-owned Megabus for less money than a 60-mile roundtrip from the Mid-Mon Valley to Pittsburgh on taxpayer-subsidized transit.

Travel time is less than seven hours, comparable to driving yourself. The buses make few intermediate stops, part of company strategy to transport passengers to destinations faster than Greyhound, Amtrak and airlines in a few cases.

Some buses are double-deckers seating 80 people. All offer free WiFi internet service. Drivers are rotated frequently to keep them alert and safe. GPS tracks the buses. Governors on engines prevent speeding.

Most riders are tech-savvy and book through www.megabus.com in order to receive discounts. Otherwise, phone 877-GO-2-MEGA.

If you're a senior citizen, you can ride MMVTA buses to Pittsburgh for free. Ergo, round trip travel to the "happening city" of Toronto can cost you as little as $2.50 if you get the $1 fares.

The $250-$300 saved in gas, tolls, parking and wear-and-tear on the car offsets the cost of two nights in a nice hotel.

Megabus stops briefly in Erie at the Presque Isle Casino and in downtown Buffalo, near the Peace Bridge, on the Pittsburgh-Toronto route, which operates three times daily.

So what's Megabus• How can it offer unbelievably low fares?

It's a "no frills" intercity bus service with Coach USA and Coach Canada as majority owners, providing discount travel service since 2006 in mostly the Northeast, Midwest and part of Canada.

In Pittsburgh, for example, Megabus keeps costs low by boarding passengers on the sidewalk at 10th Street and Penn Avenue in front of the Convention Center instead of using the nearby Greyhound Bus Terminal.

Advertising is mostly by word-of-mouth. Nearly all reservations are made online. Low fares are first-come, first-served. That is, as seats fill, fares increase incrementally. The highest fares aren't as much as one might think.

A week ago, seats were still available to Toronto for a $2 round trip for travel starting today and returning Sunday.

Rapidly-expanding Megabus began operating in Pittsburgh in May 2010, offering service to New York City via State College.

Since Pittsburgh is now a hub, you can also ride Megabus to Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Akron, Toledo, Cleveland, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Searching online for a four-day, pre-holiday excursion (July 29-July 3), for example, Megabus dangled fares as low as $37 to D.C., $74 to Philadelphia, $16 to Cleveland, $27 to Detroit and $79 to New York City. Those were round trip prices. By booking earlier, seats could have been purchased for $1, $3 or $8 each way.

Scheduled travel time between Pittsburgh and New York City is 7 hours, 50 minutes.

You could fly. The cheapest round trip airfare out of Pittsburgh International Airport was $255.10. Plus the cost of New York airport shuttle buses.

You could ride the rails. Amtrak's only Pittsburgh-NYC passenger train, the Pennsylvanian, was offering a special $136 fare. Besides being $50 higher than Megabus, the train takes about 2 hours longer.

You could make the 750-mile round trip by car. Tolls for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, New Jersey Turnpike and Holland Tunnel alone will set you back $70.

Prime parking in Midtown Manhattan can cost $168 to $220 for four nights, provided you arrive after 6 p.m. on the first night.

Gas, tolls and parking are free when you sit in a cushioned Megabus seat and enjoy the view.

Thought du jour: Growing old beats the alternative - dying young.

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