On May 17th 2012 BoltBus began operating buses traveling from Seattle to Portland for as little as $1 each way. I was on the first bus out of Seattle, leaving at 8:30am and arriving in Portland around 11:45am. I took the last bus from Portland back to Seattle the same day, leaving at 6:00pm and getting into Seattle just past 9pm.
I purchased my tickets on May 2nd. The Website experience on BoltBus.com was terrible. Theres a “Where We Go” link at the top that is not functional. If you simply go to the web site to purchase tickets and you know where you want to travel, the ticket purchase system works properly. I have looked at the web site in both Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 on Windows 7. I finally figured out some of what is wrong with the web site because a friend had a functional link after clicking around the site a bit. If you chose your region, the Where We Go link becomes functional. Prior to that it’s a link without a functional reference.
BoltBus operates without a bus terminal. The bus stops for just over 15 minutes at a designated location in the city and loads with passengers. There was a BoltBus employee wearing boltbus logo clothing and a bright safety vest standing at the location well over half an hour before the scheduled departure. He also had a sandwich board sign on the pavement making the location obvious as you walk along the sidewalk.
Boarding the bus is done by boarding groups which will be familiar to anyone who has ever traveled Southwest Airlines. Your emailed ticket has a large letter number combination printed. Mine was B-10 on the outgoing trip and B-02 on the return trip. Anyone with an “A” designation would have been able to board earlier, and anyone with a “C” designation would be lined up later. The “A” designation indicates that the person is a member of the loyalty program. The number is from the order that the ticket was sold, so I was the 10th ticket sold on the outbound trip. I was told by the attendant that on busy routes he would have people line up in the order of the numbers, to assist boarding, but they weren’t working to do that on the 17th.
The loyalty program itself is simple, for every 8 rides, you get a free ride.
The mood on the morning bus was generally festive. Plenty of people such as myself taking the trip just to see what it was like. I believe that everyone traveling on the first day paid the $1 per trip plus a $1 service fee, making a round trip to Portland cost $3. That’s less than the toll across the 520 bridge, and barely more than the cost of taking Link Light Rail from downtown to SEATAC airport. I saw many of the same faces on my return trip from the morning trip.
The bus on the way to Portland stopped for about ten minutes in Centralia, half way to Portland. It was just stopped as a bathroom break and drink purchase stop at the mini mart. The bus on the return trip did not make any stops. I prefer the nonstop trip, and expect that most runs will not make any stops.
The bus is generally quieter than an airplane, and drives along the freeway where there are plenty of cell towers. This makes it possible to carry on a conversation using your cell phone. It also makes it very annoying for other people in the bus when you do so. I was across the aisle from a couple of college age girls traveling to Portland to visit one of the girls sister for the day. They spent a good portion of the first hour talking on the phone. Then they were talking between themselves and poking at phones and computers.
I was carrying my iPad which currently has Verizon LTE internet access enabled. I ran the speedtest.net app while connected to the WiFi provided in the bus, and again while connected to the Verizon network. Because the bus stopped in Centralia and most riders left the bus, I was able to run the test when the fewest number of people would be using the WiFi. The network was good for basic email transfers, but certainly not running a significant amount of data. While driving along and using the ipad map program, the map tiles could be slow to be drawn, with the surrounding tiles not filling in, while switching to the cellular network had no problem keeping up with the bus movement. In general if you have your own data connection that works along the I5 corridor you’ll probably prefer to use that. If you don’t have your own data connection, the basic bus WiFi is useful.
The evening return trip was started with a basic safety announcement that included a basic courtesy rules like using headphones for personal audio and keeping phone calls to a minimum. I didn’t notice any long phone calls on the return trip. I did notice a lot of the same faces on the return trip from the morning trip.
Overall having an inexpensive and efficient option for travel from Seattle to Portland is a good thing. Amtrak operates the same corridor, offering more intermediate stops and a slightly higher cost, certainly no $1 fares.
BoltBus expects to begin service from Seattle to Vancouver BC on 5/31/2012, and currently has $1 fares listed for those trips as well.