Amtrak vs. BoltBus vs. Megabus

My recent trip to Washington turned into an experiment in mass transit comparison.
BoltBus passenger plugs inI went down on the Amtrak Northeast Regional train and returned to Hartford on BoltBus and Megabus, with a change of buses in New York.

The experience was fine on each form of transit. Naturally, Amtrak feels like the most civilized option because you can get up, walk around and buy a cup of coffee or a snack. It’s also considerably more expensive.

The buses were both good. I ended up, overall, with a more favorable impression of BoltBus, but that might be entirely anecdotal.

The Megabus we rode smelled strongly of bathroom chemicals with an undercurrent of urine, and by the middle of the trip the odor had reached the front of the bus. I’ve seen nothing in the comments of other riders to suggest that’s typical. And the driver of the Megabus nearly made up for it, being one of those friendly and cheerful people who it’s impossible not to like immediately.

Making the bus comparison more difficult was that I didn’t realize the Megabus was supposed to be WiFi-equipped. I didn’t whip out the netbook, so I have no idea how the WiFi was working. But other riders have suggested that Megabus and BoltBus have about the same level of WiFi — a bit slow but generally fast enough to keep you distracted.

Our BoltBus from Washington to New York was completely full and the driver turned away some walk-ups. Yet it was eerily quiet. The passengers were almost all of college age, and most of them slept or used their computers throughout the ride.

Our Megabus was nearly empty — just seven people going from New York to Boston with a stop in Hartford. BoltBus covers the same route from New York to Boston, but doesn’t stop in Hartford.

Here’s my comparison chart of the features and costs of the three forms of transit. This is based entirely on my experience, including the fares I managed to get with a AAA discount on Amtrak ($64.80) and advance purchases on BoltBus between Washington and New York ($15) and Megabus between New York and Hartford. ($8)

  Amtrak BoltBus Megabus
WiFi no yes yes
Power Outlets yes yes no
Tray Tables yes no no
Seat Width wider narrow narrow
Leg Room good good tighter
Business Class +$30 n/a n/a
Food yes no no
Restroom OK OK smelly
Cost Per Mile 19 cents 7 cents 7 cents
On Time? 30 min late yes yes
Pick Up / Drop Off station streetside streetside
Personnel OK OK



5 thoughts on “Amtrak vs. BoltBus vs. Megabus

  1. mommafrica

    Did u get a voucher from Amtrak for its tardiness? Hopefully that stimulus $ will solve this. NOT! Take a bag lunch & enjoy ur “nearly free” bus ride w/ Wi-Fi.

  2. Scott L.

    Hi Jeanne-
    Good post and good comparison. I will generally side with Amtrak because it removes the traffic factor, they provide outlets, and I can get up and grab a beverage or snack. But it is more expensive and there are issues with being on time. One thing that could also be considered is the frequent traveler programs. I’ve found that my frequent trips to NYC for work have earned me a lot of Amtrak Guest Rewards points that my wife and I have used for regional vacations (DC, Richmond). Do the bus companies have a frequent traveler program? Also, I think Amtrak should get on board with WiFi. While I have a 3G tethering option, I would much rather just point my wireless card to the signal on a train. Based on your review, I will consider the Megabus for trips to NYC or Boston in the future.
    Thanks again for a great blog.

  3. Roy

    The BOLT Bus is great! I’m a regular. Comfortable and on time most of the time. All drivers have been safe and courteous. I have not had to experience the restroom Oder on Bolt Bus as you did on the Mega Bus. (Yuk)

  4. regisjlee

    Don’t ride Megabus. I wrote a letter to them (below) on one horrific trip:
    I waited standing up in the cold for a total of 4 hours, from 6:30 – 10:30 on April 9 when I was finally able to board a bus by begging the dispatchers to let me on. The entire system is messed up and horrific. There was an older lady begging to be allowed to sit down on a chair near the dispatchers. She was supposed to board a 9 PM bus.
    There were hundreds of disgruntled people in the cold, only 2 dispatchers, and chaos everywhere. No one knew what was going on, I called Megabus who connected me to Eastern travel and told me that a bus broke down and they were sending one over. Then the dispatchers told me that the bus was sent over to Chinatown where all of our seats were sold.
    The other egregious thing was that all the 7 PM riders were forced to the back of the priority behind the other megabus riders. So we were constantly being pushed back in line and not accommodated on the 8 PM, 9 PM, and 10 PM buses because we had selected an option that said “operated by Eastern Travel.” It was awful. If someone had told us what was going on, I would’ve left a long time ago. But because even the dispatchers were unsure and trying to be helpful, I was strung along for a total of 4 hours. I’m lucky I didn’t catch a cold. However, I am extremely tired, lethargic, and sore today.
    You obviously didn’t accommodate the travel weekend because one of the dispatchers told me he was supposed to be off that day. You should have seen the ratio of passengers to dispatchers. Awful.
    The whole reason for taking Megabus is to get away from the poorly managed, unstructured chinatown bus operations. Whoever your decision makers are don’t realize the key consumer rationale behind taking megabus.

  5. Pingback: Megabus Pulls Out Of Hartford @ Coach Class

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