Friday, August 17, 2012
Review: BoltBus in the Northwest
BoltBus is a newcomer to the Northwest and, as I wrote previously, it has been shaking up how we get around in our region. BoltBus operates buses that connect Vancouver BC, Seattle, and Portland with new buses and the promise of cheap fares. This past weekend I went down to Portland for a Neighborhood Greenways study trip and got a chance to put BoltBus to the test.
The business model for BoltBus is pretty simple: Exceed expectations, undercut the competition, and minimize expenses. To do that, BoltBus promises fares as low as a buck, new buses, and curbside pickup. In Seattle, the bus stop is next to the International District station, near Uwajimaya. In Portland, it is right downtown, while in Vancouver it is near the main train station. When I arrived, there was already a group of people waiting, although this doesn't really matter: Boarding is done in three waves and first come is not necessarily first served when each wave is called.
The bus itself is brand new with baggage storage underneath. There is room for a bike, but it is first come, first served. For a lot of my biking friends, that means that BoltBus is a lot less attractive. It is entirely possible to show up and not have room on the bus or to get stuck in another city with a bike you can't take back with you. In the future, hopefully they will create a reservation system. Passengers on BoltBus were friendly and typically on the younger side.
After the break, the interior and review of BoltBus!
On board, the seats are shiny leather with seat belts and plugs at most seats. While they look nice and inviting, they are actually relatively uncomfortable. The base is effectively an unsupported cushion, which means that the base seems to slant slightly forward when you sit on it. For 3.5 hours, it's not the worst in the world, but it is also not a lush experience. Two other demerits for the seat include a lack of pocket to store an audio player and a lack of table for working on your laptop. The bus is equipped with a standard port-a-potty style chemical toilet and a little over half-way down, the drive pulls off the freeway for a break. On the way down it was at a convenience store and on the way back up, it was at a truck stop that had vending machines.
Besides the seat, the ride is very smooth and comfortable all the way down. As long as you don't hit traffic, it's about as fast as driving and when headed to Canada, the bus is able to bypass the line at the border. In that case, it can be even faster. Internet on the bus was available, but pretty slow when I tried using it. For my ticket, I paid $23 but many fares (especially more than a week out) are between $8 and $15 each way. Well worth the price, even if it is wasn't quite perfect. If you are looking for the least expensive option to get between the cities, this is it. With relatively minor complaints, this is also an actually good option.