Lucky me– I live within one day’s drive of 25% of the nations’ population. It can be a convenience for sure, but living along the I-95 corridor is no picnic if you actually have to drive it. I can name all of the usual suspects for traffic jams– the ones in Connecticut (which are the most irritating), the DC traps and the North and South Jersey mile markers of misery. As a result, I have learned to love Amtrak over the years. Yes it is expensive and that makes the occassional delays seem worse than they really are. But the rails have been kinder to me than the road, so I have been a loyal Amtrak patron despite the fat fares.
When the economy nosedived after last year’s financial shock, I, like most of my fellow Americans, became a little more of a tight wad. I have cut out a lot of my unnecessary spending and have tried to be smarter and more strategic with my personal finances. That is where the Bolt comes in. It is a bus (yes a lowly bus) that offers service from Boston to DC and all points in between for unbelievably cheap rates- generally $10 to $15 each way. Considering the cheap seats on Amtrak run me between 45 and 90 bucks each way, (the first class Acela is even more) I had to give the Bolt a try.
Here is my Bolt Bus review: The buses are new, clean and comfortable, with wifi and electrical outlets at each seat. Most of the fleet is made up of 2008 model year motor coaches and the fellow passengers are generally professionals or students. Missing was the bus depot and the riff-raff and idling fumes that come with bus stations in every city. The Bolt picks up and drops off at convenient on street locations.
All this is great, but the real test for me was time. Traffic can kill a packed schedule. I got a pretty realistic taste on my Tuesday morning rush hour trip north to New York. An accident in New Jersey followed the typical script; The Bolt Bus was parked on the NJ Turnpike for a solid hour (This is where I regretted not having my laptop and started wondering why Apple doesn’t make a netbook). My iphone and all its apps (especially text) saved me from a panic attack. We were an hour late getting to the stop in Manhattan. I had budgeted time for delays and was OK.
The return trip made me rethink the convenience of the on street passenger loading. You need to be at the stop 15 minutes before departure to secure your seat. This is kind of a joke. They don’t open the bus doors to greet you until about 5 or 10 minutes before the departure time. I showed up early and waited in the rain. The boarding could have been smoother. The people who showed up last pushed forward to the front of the line. Not necessary; if you have a ticket you get a seat on the Bolt. With Amtrak if you had a ticket and the train was oversold, you could ride, but possibly with no seat. The return trip was fast and smooth.
Final judgement: I would take it again- with my laptop. There is the occasional loud talker (except in the quiet car, Amtrak has the same problem), the rain, the morning delay, but nothing truly awful. The reality is in this economy, the Bolt Bus does what Amtrak does between Boston and DC for a lot less. If your schedule is really tight, I would opt for the train- it is faster and less likely to come to a grinding halt during rush hour. But if you have a little wiggle room and the fare is coming out of your pocket– then I suggest you consider it. What you save on a roundtrip is a dinner out, or that week’s contribution to the 529 plan.
For more information on the Bolt and Amtrak here are links to their websites.
www.megabus.com offers one way fares in the same coverage area for about the same price as the Bolt Bus. I have not tried it, but it may be another option for you.
One Response to “Bolt Bus vs Amtrak”
July 23rd, 2009 at 5:41 pm
Check out BusJunction, it’s a good place to find these sorts of tickets.