Bolt Bus Coming to the Northwest

Bolt Buses

Bolt Buses photos by Mr T in DC

Bolt Bus has chosen Seattle-Portland as its first route outside of the Northeastern corridor. Fares will be between $6 and $9 normally, but if you reserve your ticket on the opening day service on May 17th, the fare will be only $1 (at least they were for me). Bolt Bus, which is owned and operated by Greyhound, will operate four buses per day, each with wi-fi, power outlets and large seats. You can even bring your bike for free if you board the bus early. In all, I think this is a very welcome development.

Anyone have experience with Bolt Bus?

Comments

  1. Cameron says

    This is so tremendously exciting! After moving here from DC, where Chinatown buses make inter-city transit an absolute dream compared to the rest of the country, I was sorely missing such a service. I’m also very happy with the pricing, its honestly suspiciously low.

    Also, anybody know anything about the company that provided a chinatown-style bus service in the NW but went under? Perhaps Greyhound’s cash is making this venture more feasible…

  2. David Seater says

    I’m curious, what do they do differently than the regular Greyhound service that costs 2-4 times as much? Surely adding amenities like legroom, power, and Wi-Fi doesn’t reduce the operating cost. The trip time is also noticeably shorter on Bolt Bus.

    • Andrew Smith says

      Greyhounds go all kinds places. Bolt Bus run to just a few locations.

      I think the question really is why is Greyhound so expensive. You have a bus that carries, what, 55 people? It gets, what 5 mph? Seattle-Portland is 180 miles?

      So, it’s 36 gallons of gas, or $150 worth. Plus $15/hr for the driver and you’re at like $220. 55 * $6 = $330. Small margins, sure. But 55 * $20 = $1100, which are crazy margins.

      • Bernie says

        First off employee cost is a lot more than just salary. I’m sure they’re more efficient than Metro but you still need maintenance personnel and managers. Then there’s the cost of a 1/2 million dollar bus that needs to be replaced every dozen or so years. Then there’s license and excise taxes plus corporate taxes. Add in money for tires, oil, cleaning, etc. Greyhound operates on about a 6-8% profit margin. BoltBus is owned by Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus Lines.

      • says

        Keep in mind, when someone’s hourly wage is $15, it’s likely closer to $25. If they’re salaried, it’s easily double the “hourly” rate. Benefits + employer paid taxes.

    • Cameron says

      Well, competitive pricing with nonstop service chinatown buses probably drove down the price in their initial business model, why they aren’t shooting for a higher ticket price out here where there really isn’t any real competition is a mystery to me…

      One idea is that Bolt is probably quite a bit more gas efficient than the normal Portland-Seattle Greyhound route (which makes local stops). Also, nonstop service between downtown Portland and Seattle would probably get quite a bit more ridership than the local route, especially with those prices.

    • Mike Orr says

      A few years ago Greyhound deleted service between Yakima and Walla Walla, and between Billings MT and and Minneapolis. There was much hand-wringing about how elderly people would get to medical specialists, but eventually the regional Trailways companies or states installed replacement service. Somehow these other companies can afford to serve routes that Greyhound can’t, and some of them even have newer/more luxurious buses. There’s something about running a national network that causes a cost overhead.

      • Nathanael says

        It’s been pointed out that Greyhound has stations, and Megabus and Chinatown buses don’t (expecting you to wait on streetcorners). That makes a substantial difference.

      • Nathanael says

        I’ve never been entiurely sure how the Trailways business models work, though; they often do have stations, yet still do better than Greyhound. Are they getting state or local subsidies for the stations? Perhaps.

      • Mike Orr says

        As a station agent once explained to me, Trailways is the shared ticketing system the bus companies use. Greyhound is a Trailways company but it dropped the “Trailways” from its name for marketing purposes, to give the impression that “intercity bus travel = Greyhound”, no doubt to prevent another national carrier from emerging. All the other Trailways companies I’ve seen are regional and private.

        I doubt it’s the local stops that drive up Greyhound’s costs, it’s the hundreds of miles through rural areas. A daily bus from Billings to Fargo can rightsize its coach for the corridor, and have one consistent 8-to-12 hour shift. Greyhound had to size the coach for Seattle-Chicago and have round-the-clock operations, and drive a thousand miles with few people getting on/off (i.e., little incremental revenue from the intermediate miles).

    • Trey says

      BoltBus and MegaBus can keep cost low because they operate what is referred to in the world of transit as a curbside service. Essentially, other bus services like Greyhound and alternate methods of transportation including trains and airlines operate from hubs or stations. These hubs and stations (in addition to other infrastructural costs) have huge costs associated with them including dedicated staff, maintenance, etc that has to now be baked into the ticket price. Beyond simple operating costs associated with hubs/stations, most municipalities also enforce tax/permit and zoning costs on hubs/stations. By picking a random street corner or even renting a parking lot for next to nothing they avoid taxes and other facility costs. Right or wrong, it is an effective way of keeping your overhead low but there are many municipalities in the NE that are adopting new legislation to prevent unregulated curbside services (quoting congestion issues, excessive wear and tear of public property, etc).

  3. Gordon Werner says

    maybe they should finish their website … about half of the links don’t work

  4. reality based commute says

    I prefer Amtrak because I like to get up and walk around and beer makes commuting better (if you aren’t driving).

    But Bolt Bus is a welcome addition to our region. This is one more indication that the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver corridor is perhaps the strongest market for Amtrak and intercity buses outside of the Eastern seaboard.

    I think this is their introductory price. In practice, I believe that their fares will be congestion priced with cheaper fares for emptier buses, just like Amtrak.

  5. Charles says

    Boltbus came about after Megabus came on the scene. This was after Greyhound had acquired a “low cost” competitor “Peter Pan”. Between all the competitors there is frequent service between DC and Manhattan. Megabus is also in the Midwest with service between Chicago and Milwaukee and Minneappolis. They discount early tickets to $1 and seats later get more expensive but always cheaper than greyhound or Amtrak.

      • Charles says

        OK, I stand corrected. I remember the changes to Peter Pan lines many years ago (1999) when something happened when they started utilizing Greyhound terminals such as the one in DC and their fares went UP. I had recalled the arrangement at the time being described as an acquisition but now reading their history page and your referenced link I see I was mistaken. It also appears Peter Pan is a co-partner in BoltBus. http://www.peterpanbus.com/about-peter-pan/company-history/

  6. Mark Dublin says

    Last July, I wish I’d been able to get service like this between Sacramento and Eugene.

    Recalling that trip, my question is not why fares are high or low, but how Greyhound can get away with having its regular service be so bad for so long. It’s long since time they had some competition. Since Greyhound runs Bolt, not sure this counts.

    I’m very curious about one thing: will the Bolt drivers be unionized? I’ll feel safer riding with them if answer is positive.

    Mark Dublin

    • Nathanael says

      I’m actually not sure how Greyhound has failed to go bankrupt. Oh right! It did go bankrupt in 2001. It will probably take a while for its new owners to go bankrupt too. I assume they’re cross-subsidizing it.

      • Bernie says

        Greyhound turns a profit for FirstGroup. The school bus operations First Student drag down earnings.

      • Nathanael says

        I simply don’t believe that. First Group originally planned to buy only the school bus operations… I suspect creative accounting.

  7. Guy from DC says

    Bolt Bus is a great service based on my experience, but whomever commented earlier about these being introductory prices – they are probably spot on. You should expect those fairs to go up to the low to mid $20 range not long after, with a peppering of special deals for each month (DC bolt buses, as well as the other services all offer stuff like that, and even frequent rider benefits).

    If its successful enough, you may even see 1 or 2 of their competitors show up…

    • Mark Dublin says

      I’m willing to pay a fair price for good service. Would have paid half again as much, or more, on trip I mentioned last summer. Schedule was perfect for the trip I needed. Everything else I experienced between San Francisco and Seattle was enjoyable.

      Maybe because it was Fourth of July weekend, sensed it was my patriotic duty to scrape our country’s flag off the side of the machine I just got off of, but couldn’t overcome desperation to get away from everything connected to that particular bus company.

      What I’m wondering, and would appreciate someone who knows the economics of intercity bus operations telling me, is if it really is possible for a private company to run clean, safe buses, driven and maintained by skilled professionals, and still make a profit.

      Or if it’s possible for a cooperative to at least cover wages and expenses.

      If not, as both a passenger and a taxpayer, I’d like to see regional or national public service. In the Nordic countries, the “draft” puts most draftees in civilian government jobs. You have to compete for the military. Might get volunteers for this one.

      The two drivers I rode with last July had good driving skills, but their work outlook would have kept them out of driving for any Department of Corrections.

      Mark Dublin

      • Nathanael says

        “is if it really is possible for a private company to run clean, safe buses, driven and maintained by skilled professionals, and still make a profit.”

        No.

        “Or if it’s possible for a cooperative to at least cover wages and expenses.”

        Yes. But only in a fairly rich area. (The fares have to be surprisingly high, so the coop members have to be able to afford that.)

    • Nathanael says

      From what I’ve read, the Bolt Bus and Megabus scheme is to offer 1 seat on each bus for $1, with the second person to buy a seat getting something more in the $20 ranger.

      • Charles says

        My experience is that they do graduated prices on seats. They later you book, the more expensive. I traveled between DC and NYC for $9 and $15. I was quite pleased with the experience save for having no terminal on either end. On the DC side, the buses departed (at the time) from the parking lot adjacent to a park near “K” street.

    • Erik G. says

      I doubt that. Greyhound has the advantage of already having maintenance facilities in Seattle and Portland.

      • turgutbey says

        Well, Greyhound has that same advantage in DC and NY and Bolt doesn’t pick up in the stations there. Anyway, you can see the planned pickup/dropoff locations in Portland and Seattle buy starting to book and then clicking “location details.” The Seattle location is in the ID at 5th and King. In Portland its at Salmon and 6th.

    • says

      I’d like to see them offer different timeslots than Amtrak since if I have a choice I’ll take the train. However if we had a really early timeslot on the bus and a really late one then they’d be adding service.

  8. Rod N. says

    These may be popular for the few people who enjoy riding intercity buses. Though I think in a couple of years, one will see these buses shuttling people from downtown Seattle to the Snoqualmie Casino. Or, perhaps, teens to the local ski areas…

    • says

      I don’t think people take intercity buses because they enjoy it. This service is trying to address the stigma of Greyhound (Scary! Dirty! Crazy people! Slow!) and is introducing it at a dirt cheap price. If they can keep it pretty cheap, it’s more than half the price of your other alternatives (except a 4 person car).

      A car is about $31 per person with two people in the car.
      Amtrak is $35 – 53 per person.
      BoltBus is $1 to $8 per person.

      Now, at more than half the cost and a fairly high certainty that it will be that price, I might drop down to Portland to go see the Sounders fight the Timbers more often. I can deal with it being a slightly less comfy bus for 3.5 hours for $8. :)

  9. Charles says

    Speaking of Greyhound, what is the status of their terminal in Seattle? Have they found a new location?

    • Mr. Z says

      I’ve been thinking that if they had a couple of curb loading stops downtown, than extended routes to the airport (or vise-versa depending on how it arrives in seattle) for transfers inbetween routes would be a good idea. the TSA and Airport Police can keep the bums out of sea-tac, and they dont have to worry as much about a divy facility in downtown, just a couple of bus stops on various street corners.

  10. jon says

    Too bad they mirrored Amtraks departure times. There is really a need for an early morning depature like 6am and a late evening departure like 9pm. It would be really nice to be able to do a day trip to Portland/Seattle yet no one offers this. Now you dont arrive until around 12 noon and have to leave around 6pm

    • Steve Wight says

      I would love even just a one hour earlier/later schedule options. 7 AM and 7 PM would be great.

  11. Mr. Z says

    This will be an intresting service for a few reasons. I have no doubts that if they advertise their service right that they can indeed make a good run of it. It will be intresting to see how people adapt to showing up at a street corner and board a bus to portland. Will there be any signage? I think it will be worth a trip to find out. Last i had heard seattle wasent enthused with the idea of curb loading for Greyhound, although there are a few charter bus zones scattered around the city. Will BOLT be using a charter bus zone? If their stop is where i think it is, its a Metro zone. Mabye Metro can rent out their zones for some extra $$$ (of course dident starline try to get something like this passed into law, except for free of course. at Park and Ride Lots).

    I have heard some flack about them not making intermediate stops, and fulfilling a genuine transportation “need”. I think the need is there, otherwise they wouldent be trying to start the service up. As for making more local and rural stops, i hate to say it but thats something the public should be taking care of rather than private entitys. Being required to keep unproductive and onerously regulated lines on the books dident help greyhound at all (Restrictions about where you could pick up in what direction, and drop off in another direction used to be very common place – today they make no sense at all however) I think that for some of the smaller cities Amtrak Thruway buses should be devloped to serve the Centrailia’s and Kelso’s that dont get regular intercity bus service today. Although i do wonder if a stop at Sea-Tac Airport or Tacoma wouldent help them (or mabye a seperate line if they get really successful)?

    • Mike Orr says

      You’re assuming that Greyhound’s local buses are unprofitable. How do you know that? If they were such a significant money drain, Greyhound would have deleted them already. But people do travel to/from Kelso, and others going to Portland sometimes take the local bus because (A) it’s the only departure time that works for them, (B) they want a double seat to themselves, or (C) they want to avoid the annoying riff-raff who seem to be concentrated on the long-distance buses.

      • Mr. Z says

        I’m talking about unprofitable services that existed twenty or thirty years ago. If you compare a russll’s gude from the early 1990s and even 1980s to today they are a LOT thicker. They were still 700-800 pages now down to 200-300 pages.

    • says

      I like the SeaTac idea a lot.

      If I have to go all the way to Seattle from Kent, to catch a bus that then goes back the opposite way past where I live, I’d rather just drive.

      Ideally it would stop in Kent Station…in fact, I would suggest that given all the transit from Seattle center, they could ride Metro to Kent to pick up a Bolt bus as well.

      However, if I can jump on a short bus ride locally to get on a Bolt Bus I might do it.

      • Chris I says

        No one lives in Kent. Serving Kent would be stupid. The business model is simple: serve dense cities with cheap, quick buses. Kent does not qualify.

      • Mike Orr says

        Guess what, John, that’s not where the market is. Everywhere chinatown buses or Bolt-type buses exist, they go from the biggest city’s center to the biggest city’s center. (The stop may be in a neighborhood adjacent to the center, but not in a suburban area.) This is because people want to go to New York or Boston or DC, not to Yonkers or Brookline or Tyson’s Corner. Also, the people who travel between city centers are more likely to take a bus than those travelling between suburban cities. People take chinatown buses both because they’re cheap and because they don’t spend time making suburban stops.

  12. kent says

    A positive outcome from being “late to the game” with regards to rail transit – we don’t need to “invent” anything. Coming up with new ideas is expensive. We should be investing in discovering “best practices” developed and implemented elsewhere. Portland, Vancouver, New York, etc. They have used cards for years and have the “bugs” worked out. Shamelessly stealing good ideas is very cost effective.

  13. says

    I haven’t ridden Bolt Bus before, but my cousin from Baltimore/NYC loves it. He regularly mixes his trips along the NEC with Bolt Bus/Amtrak/driving. It’s quick, inexpensive, has great frequency, and nice interiors/amenities. Yay for Greyhound providing this service. It will be a great supplement to existing service within the SEA-PDX corridor. I don’t have any concern about this.

  14. Rita says

    The fares seem too good to be true. Is this like a promotion that when everyone loves the service the prices sky rocket?

  15. Jim says

    I concur with those who wish the schedule did not ‘mirror’ Amtrak. Why would they do that, seems like you would get more people by departing between their runs?

    I am attracted by the supposed free transport of bike on Bolt. I like to take the train to PDX with my bike for riding around Portland, but there are only 6 bike spaces on Amtrak Cascades (and none on Coast Starlight) and there is a cost ($5 I think).

  16. Kristin O'Donnell says

    There was once the Green Tortoise North-South commuter bus 3x a week from Seattle to San Francisco — very cheap. Very granola, veggie dinner, hot tub —- And very adventurous as well — five hour breakdowns (and no cell phone service– in the December Siskyous.

    I miss the Tortoise! Last time I checked they still did SF to LA a few times a week.

    • Mike Orr says

      I remember that although I never took it because it didn’t fit my schedule. I’m not sure if it was really the same kind of thing as Bolt/chinatown buses; it happened about ten years earlier and I don’t think fares w0ere that dramatically low. It was just cheaper than Greyhound and was a hippie experience. There was a Green Tortise hostel in San Francisco it went to, then later a Green Tortise hostel opened in Seattle and the bus service ended.

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