BoltBus Offers A Wired Ride

The kid recently took a BoltBus from Philadelphia to New York, and she arrived with good news and bad news.

The good news is that BoltBus is a nice ride, especially if you want wireless Internet. The bad news is that the bus was nearly empty, which raises the question of whether Greyhound will really make a go of it.

BoltBus is Greyhound’s attempt to shoulder its way into the low-cost “Chinatown” bus market. This is essentially what the airlines tried to do against Southwest, with such subsidiaries as Delta’s Song and United’s Ted airlines.

Song and Ted both flopped, which may or may not be relevant to this case. To the extent that those failures reflected the inability of a large, entrenched operation to shift gears, Greyhound may be vulnerable in the same way. But the bus business is different, and at a different point, than the airlines business.

So, we shall see. 

BoltBus, like its low-cost rivals, boards at curbside instead of at a bus station. Luggage is handled the same way – put into a cargo hold underneath the bus.

In Kate’s view, BoltBus has two significant advantages over the Chinatown buses. First is the wireless Internet, which worked well enough for her to watch streaming video. There’s also a standard power outlet for each seat.

Second, buying a ticket on BoltBus guarantees a seat on a given bus. Some other low-cost operations will sell you a ticket, but you may have to show up early and elbow your way on board — or wait for the next bus.

Kate bought two tickets online – one for her and another for her boyfriend – months ahead of time, and got an email with a confirmation number to hand the bus driver. Already this is an improvement over Greyhound’s traditional bus service, which doesn’t use e-tickets. And the BoltBus tickets cost only $1 and $7, low fares that are available for a few seats on each bus.

Trouble is, when Kate’s bus left Philadelphia, it was carrying only about 10 people.

So far, BoltBus travels only between New York and three cities: Philadelphia, Boston and Washington. I’ve seen the New York – Boston bus zooming down I-84, right past Hartford, and I’m hoping for my own sake that it will eventually stop there.

But I’m guessing it’s going to need more passengers before it expands.


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