Monday, July 7, 2008

Secrets of the BoltBus

On May 19, I introduced you to BoltBus, a next-generation bus service that offers service between New York City and destinations in D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston. On June 10, I mentioned BoltBus again as a possible workaround for people looking to travel between NYC and Boston when Amtrak service (my usual preferred route for that trip) was interrupted by the Thames River bridge replacement project.

Well, both of those recommendations were accurate and heartfelt, but they were based on second-hand information. This past weekend, I got the opportunity to do some first-hand research. The BoltBus is every bit as great as I was told; I've also got a few details to add:
  • About half of the seats have power outlets, most of them towards the front of the bus. Look on the back of the seat to see if there's a double outlet there.

  • I mentioned earlier that the BoltBus coach configuration has one fewer row of seats, with the extra space used to give everyone more leg room. It really makes a difference... the leather seats are almost as spacious as Amtrak and I found them more comfortable overall.

  • WiFi is provided as promised, but it's about as reliable as you'd expect from a bus: it isn't always booted properly when the bus starts, and the uplink loses signal from time to time.

  • The bus stops in Philadelphia and New York are literally right next to the train stations. In D.C., the stop is right in front of Metro Center (on the Orange Line), which for most people is more convenient than being at Union Station anyway.
Am I going to start using BoltBus as my exclusive means of traveling to and from New York? I think that I am, at least for non-business trips. A BoltBus ticket for Independence Day weekend cost me $23. Amtrak wanted $125 for the cheapest Regional and $197 for the cheapest Acela.

I probably won't take BoltBus to Boston, because it's such a long trip, but you know what? The NYP-BOS segment is a lot cheaper on the Acela than is WAS-NYP. With service right in front of Penn Station, I'm thinking that the way to go is a $20 ticket to NYP on the BoltBus and a $67 Acela ticket to South Station.

By the way, here's a secret that will amaze you: it has its own rewards program, its own vibe, a pickup business model, a curbside pickup, and couldn't be more unlike its parent company, but BoltBus is actually operated by Greyhound. Seems our de-facto national bus carrier finally realized that it was losing a big part of the market to people who were opting for ad hoc Chinatown buses and figured it could take that challenge head-on.

And you know what? As someone who took Greyhound exactly one time and vowed never to do it again, I can say that they're right. BoltBus is something different, and it's great. Give it a try next time you're looking for East Coast travel.

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