VIA Metropolitan Transit and Megabus have finalized an agreement that will allow the commercial intercity bus service to use VIA’s Crossroads transit station.

Starting Wednesday, Megabus’ pickup and drop-off location moves from a vacant lot south of downtown to Crossroads. That means Megabus passengers can now catch a VIA bus from anywhere in the city to Crossroads, while arriving Megabus passengers can catch a VIA bus to their final destination — solving the “last mile” issue for many riders.

Megabus, which travels to several cities in Texas and parts of Louisiana, is the first commercial bus service to use VIA’s infrastructure.

Located next to the Wonderland of the Americas mall near Interstate 10 and Loop 410, the Crossroads transit station has an air-conditioned waiting area, bathrooms and vending machines. It services seven routes and around 1,000 riders on an average weekday, according to the transit agency.

Crossroads is a big step up from Megabus’s prior pickup and drop-off location, an undeveloped lot on Probandt Street along U.S. Highway 90, a site that had posed a challenge for San Antonio riders to find and use. 

Megabus has sought to use city or VIA infrastructure for years, starting with a request in 2012 to use the city’s Ellis Alley Park and Ride. In 2019, VIA began evaluating a Megabus request to use VIA’s Centro Plaza Transit Center, but ultimately agreed on shared use of the Crossroads center this year.

This will be the first intercity bus service to operate outside of downtown. Greyhound’s station is located at North St. Mary’s and East Martin streets, while the pickup spot for FlixBus is on Urban Loop, on the western edge of downtown. RedCoach picks up downtown at the Shops of Rivercenter, while Omnibus, used by passengers traveling to and from Mexico, leaves from North Colorado Street downtown.

When Megabus looked at the residential zip codes for their riders, said Mike Waters, service delivery director for Megabus, it found that many were from San Antonio’s North Side. 

“We used to try to get from city center to city center, but found it’s actually best to get closest to the home-based rider,” Waters said. “In San Antonio, there’s lots of customers in the suburbs, and so this should be a convenient service.”

For riders seeking to get downtown from Crossroads, VIA buses head there every 15 minutes, he added.

“It should be convenient and cheap,” he said.

VIA’s agreement with Megabus comes as it and other private bus operators hope to see a change in their fortunes following the pandemic. 

“It’s a slow recovery,” Waters said “We’ve got routes we haven’t picked back up. We had to lay off a few thousand people nationally when the pandemic hit. We shut down almost everything.”  

About 20,000 riders rode with Megabus in 2021, less than half of its ridership from 2019, according to the company. 

Megabus may eventually compete with a public bus service to Austin that the City of San Antonio is piloting with Bexar, Comal, Hays and Travis counties, which will connect at VIA’s Randolph Park and Ride, though that project’s development is not yet finalized. 

For VIA, the Megabus agreement complements its business model. The transit agency  charges a monthly fee to Coach USA, the parent company of Megabus, along with a proportionate cost to keep up the waiting area. VIA may see additional ticket sales for its own bus seats, with riders either arriving from or departing to another city. 

According to VIA CEO Jeff Arndt, the primary motivation for this move isn’t revenue, but connecting riders to more options. 

“As we’re building out our system, we’re really trying to build out mobility hubs, so that VIA services and other transportation services can come together and we can have a more integrated network,” he said. “Private buses are one type, but bike share and other transportation services will also connect to these hubs to create a stronger network.”

Riders can already purchase tickets on the Megabus website using the Crossroads Park and Ride, with service to Austin, Houston, Dallas, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Mitch Hagney is a writer and hydroponic farmer in downtown San Antonio. Hagney is CEO of LocalSprout and president of the Food Policy Council of San Antonio.