As BoltBus starts up 4x a day bus service between Seattle and Portland, building on QuickCoach‘s 7x a day service between Seattle and Vancouver BC, it might be a good time to look at a country with inter-city bus travel that really works. I’ve already looked at Istanbul’s wide array of travel options, now let’s consider the best way to get between cities in Turkey.
Behold the Ankara bus terminal, in the capital of Turkey. There are dozens (hundreds?) of long-distance bus companies in Turkey, each one providing a similar service. Every city and town in the country has a bus terminal, with a similar configuration: buses outside of small storefronts of different bus companies, each advertising destinations, departure times, and prices. Walk past the storefronts until you find a good deal for your destination, walk in and buy a ticket, and board your bus.
Onboard, you can generally expect clean comfortable seats, the bus equivallent of a flight attendant, a bathroom, a moist towel to clean your hands, a lemon scented perfume or hand sanitizer (I could never quite figure this out), a cellophane-wrapped biscuit, a cup of Nescafe or tea, a restroom, and a low-budget Turkish movie playing on a TV screen. If the journey is long enough, your bus will stop at a large rest area with an inexpensive restaurant. The bus will likely be direct routed only between city bus stations, though it will in practice stop several times in a traffic lane of a major freeway and let people off, to climb over a fence toward their destination.
It’s not a huge mystery that Turkey has this massive long-distance bus network. Their trains are not fast or efficient, car ownership is comparatively low (9.8M passenger cars for 74.7M people, compared to our 238M for our 313M people), and they’re not rich enough to fly very often ($14.5k/person median per-capita GDP). The question is: can we replicate something like this here? As the price of fuel rises and driving rates drop, maybe BoltBus and QuickCoach are signs of the future.
(note: all numbers from Wikipedia)