Photo from http://www.travelportland.com/
Photo from http://www.travelportland.com/

A little over 3 years ago Bolt Bus started operating in the Pacific Northwest with runs to Vancouver and Portland from Seattle. A year later service was expanded to Eugene.

I reached out to Bolt Bus GM David Hall for an update and he had some good news to share. First on June 25th Bolt Bus added 30 new trips a week:

We added a schedule from Seattle to Vancouver at 1145am via Bellingham and it returns with a schedule from Vancouver to Seattle via Bellingham at 5pm
Five days a week, doesn’t run on Tues / Weds

From Seattle to Portland
A new schedule at 12:15pm runs every day but Saturday and Monday
Another new schedule at 430pm runs every day but Tues / Weds

From Portland to Seattle
A new schedule at 1130am runs every day but Tues / Weds
Lastly a new schedule at 5pm runs every day but Sat / Mon

These schedules fill in some gaps we had in the previous schedule. Most of these will be popular on day one and should do great.

Mr. Hall also let me know that this fall the Seattle to Eugene trips which are currently only a couple trips a week will move to daily runs. I asked about Spokane service and he said that they continue to look it at but they currently don’t have the fleet to do it.

53 Replies to “Bolt Bus in the PNW Update”

  1. Now if they could just find a place to load and unload that doesn’t block the 5th Avenue commuter buses at rush hour.

    1. That’s probably been my biggest complaint about the service. If they’re a subsidiary of Greyhound, why don’t they leave from the Greyhound terminal or have some other dedicated space? The few times I’ve tried to get into the tunnel in the ID on a rainy day the northbound tunnel entrance has been blocked by the 40 or so people sheltering while they wait for Bolt to show up.

      1. Bolt is successful because it connects to major transit hubs in the city center, which the ID station and attendant bus routes and commuter rail access certainly is.

        The Greyhound station, while better connected to the CBD than many newly “relocated” stations, is not as convenient for riders.

        The benefit of Bolt is that it’s low infrastructure. It doesn’t need a station. There are no tickets to be distributed.

        I think the traffic patterns on 5th could be adjusted to accommodate them. If they can accommodate these types of intercity buses on the street in central Manhattan they can do it here

      2. I find it hard to believe there isn’t some space in or near the city center as convenient as where they are now. The bus parks directly in front of the northbound IDS tunnel entrance. They could just as easily load in front of the Amtrak station.

      3. Bolt financially works because they use curbside loading space in the city.

        They had that area designated a charter bus loading zone, by the city.

        Charter bus loading zones are disappearing throughout the downtown core. The remaining ones are very high usage. Requests for more charter space without a big lobbying group are hard to push through.

        Just saying “it should be somewhere else” without any thought to the context of the process and availability of other curb space in the downtown core is not helpful.

      4. I’m aware of the lack of curb space and process in the city and my comment wasn’t just that it should be somewhere else. Bolt bus should load somewhere else because in it’s current location it creates a user conflict between tunnel users and Bolt bus riders that is unnecessary.

        Simply relocating the charter bus stop further south on 5th past Weller in and of itself would eliminate the conflict and only cost a few street parking spots that could easily be replaced where Bolt loads now. Your comment insinuates that this is the only place in the entire city or even that 2 block area of 5th that satisfies Bolt’s business model. I disagree with that.

      5. There’s a false dichotomy here. Much of the Bolt Bus customer base is taking the tunnel or one of the buses that drops off near it to the Bolt Bus, and/or returns via the same. Part of its allure and convenience is that you can get off a bus or Link at ID station and just take the escalator upstairs with your luggage and then you’re on your way to Portland or Vancouver. Those customers are no less valuable to Metro and Sound Transit than the ones that are only traveling in their service areas. It’s no different from “we built an entire train just to get to SeaTac even though it traverses an awful long way through wilderness to get there from Rainier Beach”.

      6. The screwy thing is that they do in fact need terminal space. I see them in the Portland station regularly. I’m guessing it is for maintenance, small repair, toilet tank emptying, and pre-trip checks.

      7. I’ve been to the bus stop at 5th and Jackson to catch Metro and Sound Transit buses before, I never felt like Bolt being there was a big deal. As breakbaker said, if anything, having that seamless transfer between Bolt and the zillions of local routes passing through the area is something we should appreciate.

      8. I hadn’t had lunch in the ID for a while so I went down today just to see if I remember this wrong. Nope, 50+ people blocking the northbound tunnel access and completely blocking the sidewalk before the bus was even there. This is prioritizing one user group over another. You can maintain the convenience of Bolt Bus without doing this.

        http://tinypic.com/r/2ptapma/8

      9. True, it is a designated charter bus zone, but it’s also a no parking zone during the evening rush hour, a restriction that is ignored by Bolt Bus and people picking up / dropping off passengers. They could just as easily have made a loading zone on King Street or Weller Street for Bolt that would be as convenient for passengers without blocking Metro and ST buses.

      10. Curbside bus boarding is an example of “leeching off the public teat” of the sort which has disadvantaged train service.

        Buses don’t have to pay for the use of the roads, while trains have to pay for the use of the rails.

        And now, with curbside boarding, buses don’t have to pay for stations either, which trains have to pay for.

        I mean, it’s good that Bolt Bus is stopping in a place with decent connections, but they’re really doing it to transfer costs to the public on a profit-making enterprise, which isn’t so cool. :-P

    2. @Glenn Bolt mentions on their site that all buses park in the evenings and get daily safety checks. That may have been what you saw

      Back in the day I think a Greyhound bus might operate for weeks without the engine getting cold

  2. Wow! Bolt completely blows Amtrak out of the water on price. We (WSDOT/Washington taxpayers) are investing heavily in the Seattle-Portland rail corridor for Amtrak. It would be awfully nice if our tax-supported trains would offer fares competitive with the private market. They do not need to be free, but at least comparable. Perhaps if the fares were similar to the cost of Bolt and of driving a personal vehicle, more people would ride Amtrak instead of clogging already-full I-5. And, perhaps, then we could justify longer trains, bringing the per passenger cost to operate Amtrak down on this route.

    1. Last few times I checked Amtrak’s availability their trains were full so they’re not doing to shabby. Once they cut another 20 minutes off their times and add two more round trips in 2017 they’ll be all the more popular. Also, I spent 2 hours neck and neck with a Bolt bus trying to get from Federal Way to Tacoma a couple weeks ago.

    2. Lower fares would require an even larger subsidy from WSDOT. I think that is unlikely.

      Amtrak charges more because it can (people are willing to pay a premium for trains). Bolt charges less because it can (no infrastructure costs, cheaper equipment, no real estate). Your personal vehicle, once you’ve decided to own it, is relatively cheap to operate unless you have to pay for parking at your destination.

      The same situation exists in the Northeast Corridor. Buses are cheaper than Amtrak, and Amtrak is (usually) cheaper than the airlines. But all three modes have plenty of customers because those customers have different values for time vs. money.

      Amtrak Cascades could start a price war with Bolt, and it could perhaps run Bolt out of business or at least severely hurt its profitability. But what would that accomplish? Tax subsidies would have to increase for Amtrak and another transportation option (Bolt) would be curtailed.

      1. Amtrak will eventually be faster and more frequent that it currently is in the not to distant future, and folks will pay the relatively small premium to have a more comfortable ride (with food and restrooms on demand) that the buses just can’t offer.

        Plenty of places have cheaper bus routes that complement the train routes, and they don’t really eat into each other’s market that much. They complement each other. The train is the comfortable (and usually faster) premium service, the bus is the budget option. As transit users in Seattle grow, there will be plenty of room for both services.

      2. Amtrak is just the operator for the Cascades; it’s not an Amtrak-owned route like the Coast Starlight. The state probably has a say in the fares, and of course the state pays the fare subsidy.

      3. Another big advantage of Amtrak over Bolt is that it can serve intermediate stops along the way with a time penalty of 3 minutes, rather than 30 minutes. If you want to go from Tacoma to Portland or Lynnwood to Vancouver, Bolt is a non-starter – even if the bus is theoretically faster than the train, by the time you do all that backtracking, the train ends up being much faster.

        Also, if you’re going to Bellingham, the Amtrak Station and the Bolt Station are at completely opposite ends of town. If you’re headed to the south part of town, again, Amtrak may end up being competitive with Bolt on time and money by the time all the local transportation has been taken into account.

    3. Bolt, of course, gets heavily, if indirectly, subsidized as well. Trains are viewed, correctly, as a more pleasant, higher quality experience, a costumers respond to that by being willing to pay more. It’s not unreasonable the train should cost more than boltbus.

    4. Your taxes are paying for the roads Bolt runs on, so it’s not part of the fare. Trains don’t have that subsidy.

      When I priced two trips to Bellingham this summer, Bolt and Greyhound were $10-12 each way, while Amtrak was around $24. One trip was weekday-weekend so I was thinking about taking the county buses up and something else back. The other trip was weekend-weekend, so the county buses weren’t an option. I didn’t end up going on either trip though.

      Amtrak fares vary widely. The lowest fare when the train is empty is half the highest fare when the train is almost full. To get the lowest fare, book at least a month in advance or travel on a weekday. There are also midweek sales during the low-travel seasons which can bring the fare down to $20-something for Portland or Vancouver. The sales happen around around mid January through April, and the second half of September to the first half of December, excluding Thanksgiving week.

    5. Re Bolt vs Greyhound to Bellingham, the fare is the same or almost the same but their schedules are different. If you want to leave in a certain part of the day there’s probably only one choice that direction. There are also Amtrak thruway buses, which people tend to forget. Their fares are generally higher and they may have more stops, but they can be a good choice for a last-minute seat if the alternatives are full, since foamers shun them.

      If you’re sensitive to misbehaving/annoying passengers, the Greyhound locals are better than the expresses, and fine for regional trips. The Vancouver-Seattle-Portland express is part of the daily Los Angeles line, so it’s usually full and prone to stressed-out obnoxiousites. Some days it’s OK, others not so much. The locals tend to be emptier and people are better behaved and it’s less stressful.

      1. I’ve ridden Amtrak thruway buses a couple times on the I-5 corridor, most recently to Mt. Vernon for the Tulip Festival. The trip was surprisingly pleasant. There were only about 10 people on the bus besides myself, and none of them were obnoxious. While the trip out was $17, the trip back was just $1 on the Skagit Transit 90X (the connecting ride on the 512 was covered by my pass).

        The reason for taking the Amtrak bus one way at not the 90X both directions was schedule. The 90X runs only during commute hours and doesn’t do any midday runs. The Amtrak bus, at least in the northbound direction, runs during the midday.

      2. I should also note that even though the Amtrak website doesn’t make this clear, I had absolutely no trouble taking a bike on board the Thruway bus. It sat in the luggage compartment at the bottom of the bus.

    6. Amtrak is sold out a month ahead in the summer because there’s an artificial limit on the number of runs, so it can’t add runs until it reaches its natural ridership ceiling under the current fares. But ridership is widely variable as I said. In the low-travel season midweek runs can be only a quarter full.

    7. Don’t be so sure that Bolt beats Amtrak on price. Some days ago on my northbound trip, the woman sitting across the table from me and this was her first Amtrak Cascades trip. For her and her son it would have apparently cost quite a bit more than Amtrak due to Amtrak kids tickets costing less.

      1. Amtrak Cascades was cheaper for me than Bolt Bus a week before my trip July 2-5 to Portland. Then again the return train had to run at a maximum of 40 mph Vancouver, WA to Centralia which added an hour to the schedule because of the hot weather and track concerns.

    8. Bolt is subsidized by the state and local governments, which pay to give it free roads and free curbside boarding. Meanwhile, Amtrak is stuck with the state government subsidizing BNSF, which owns the tracks. There’s something unfair about this…

  3. If the train was faster it would be worth the premium. We have family in Eugene, and I would love to go down there with just a bike, but the train is 8 hours instead of 5 on the road. Traffic is pretty easy to miss most days too.

    1. And in Europe trains are often faster than the buses. I’ve taken trips on both trains and buses on both Cambridge-London and Glasgow-London where the train was between a third faster and twice as fast as the coach. I only took a bus from Dublin to Carlow because it was a last-minute decision and I didn’t think to check whether there was a train, but when I got to Carlow I saw sure enough there was a train station (of course), and the train would have been twice as fast.

      It’s because the US invests in its highways but lets its railroads deteriorate. (See recent state transportation budget for SR 509 and 167.) Sometimes it invests in railroads here and there (as in the Cascades track improvements), but not that much. People used to grumble that Britain had the worst train service in Europe (although it’s gotten better now), but it’s ten times better than what the US has. I’ll take the worst level of service in Europe, please.

    2. On both the southbound and northbound trips I just did, there were maybe 4 or 6 empty seats on the train. Some, apparently, are willing to pay quite a bit more for the train since those last several seats are not cheap.

    3. Are you signed up for notifications when Seattle to Eugene tickets are on sale? Every once in a while there is a 25% off offer going on. There’s one right now for certain days through Sept 12 I think.

      Also, if you accumulate Amtrak Guest Rewards points, there’s no point in paying for any Cascades coach tickets above about $55. You can buy the points and use them to buy the more expensive tickets for less at that point, so you might as well use the points (and sometimes there are 30% additional point purchase promotions so the actual cost effective price is somewhat less than this). Seattle to Portland only pays off sometimes, but Seattle to Eugene is a more expensive ticket and therefore more often worth paying for this way.

  4. One big service improvement that Bolt Bus could make on the Seattle Portland route is to stop in Olympia. It is quite difficult to get between Seattle and the state capitol by bus, involves at least 3 transfers,long outdoor waits , and one must often allow a good 2.5- 3-hours travel time each way due to scheduling. . Intercity Transit offers 2 nonstops from Oly to Seattle in the a.m, and return in pm, but that’s it. In addition to state employees ,there are countless others who make the trip to conduct business with the state, and even more when the Legislature is in session, not to mention students at Evergreen, St. Martin’s , etc. Bolt Bus added a stop in Bellingham on the Seattle Vancouver route,seems to be no reason that the same can’t be done for Olympia. Logical stop location could be on Capitol Way or near the Olympia Transit Center downtown. There was a FB petition on this a couple of years ago but nothing came of it. It defies logic that its so hard to get to the state capitol by transit. Amtrak is not a good option as it stops in East Olympia , with very long bus ride into town, and expensive. For starters, an Oly stop 2 or 3 times a day would be great.

    1. That would be great for Olympia passengers, but would significantly weaken the value of Bolt to a Seattle-Portland passenger. There is no easy “on-off” location in Olympia that wouldn’t involve a big time penalty. And there would be minimal Olympia-Portland traffic (since it’s not their state capital).

    2. The bus service that is needed I doubt Bolt would charge any less than Amtrak to get to Olympia. Any ticket sold there means a ticket that they couldn’t sell from Seattle to Portland.

      They run between the major population centers because that is where the market is.

      Gtdyhound has severalocal that stop in Olympia. That is probably as much as you will ever see.

    3. There are six, not two, peak-direction trips on Sound Transit 592 from Oly to Seattle, and the rest of the time it’s one transfer, from ST 594 at Lakewood to one of IT’s 6xx series routes, to get to Olympia. And there’s Greyhound.

    4. I was actually going to suggest the opposite – that every other Seattle->Vancouver trip just go nonstop and skip Bellingham.

      1. The North Bellingham stopover, as odd a location as it may be, is shockingly effective. It is about 3 minutes off the highway, on congestion-free streets. The entire process, from exiting the highway to the passenger changeover to getting back on the highway, does not cost more than 10 minutes.

        And for that, they get to serve an additional destination at which roughly 50% of the passengers disembark. Those passengers pay lower fares, of course, but as hassle-y cross-border bus routes are less popular than SEA-PDX, making the Bellingham stop might actually be allowing Bolt to run the route twice as frequently as it could otherwise justify.

        Meanwhile — and again, shockingly — that remote WTA transit center has so much service to the city center that you are highly likely to catch a $1 local bus within 5 minutes of getting off the Bolt.

        It’s a good trade-off.

      2. I was wondering about the Bellingham Bolt Bus location and the ease of getting downtown for a trip to check out Bellingham, how good is the connecting local bus on weekends when I’d be making the trip?

      3. My last trip up there was midday on a Sunday. There were 2 “Go Lines” leaving reliably every 15 minutes even then. The Green one is obviously faster than the Gold one:

        http://www.ridewta.com/files/file/maps/2014/Bellingham2014.pdf

        In addition, there are a number of lines that run an even straighter course into downtown Bellingham, though I didn’t bother to check any of their schedules, because a Green line bus was leaving literally 60 seconds after I stepped off Bolt.

        For central Bellingham destination, or even for a transfer to WWU — basically for anywhere other than Fairhaven — Bolt’s stop appears to be far more convenient than Amtrak’s.

      4. Hmm. I took Bolt once from Vancouver to Seattle and the total time for the Bellingham stopover was about 20 minutes. Maybe it just took people more time than normal to get on and off the bus.

        I was surprised by just how many people did end up getting on in Bellingham. My natural expectation would be that random delays in getting through U.S. customs would make the southbound trip too unreliable to attractive for Bellingham->Seattle trips. After all, one passenger having visa issues, etc. is sufficient to hold up the entire bus. Maybe the reality isn’t as bad as I think it is.

        I think there’s definitely enough demand in Bellingham to warrant some amount of service, but I still think they could easily fill up the bus with at least one daily nonstop Seattle->Vancouver trip, on top of the 3-4 trips that stop in Bellingham.

        The one time I took Amtrak to Bellingham, it was for a day hike up Chuckanut Mountain. I chose Amtrak in part because I could walk to the trailhead directly from the Fairhaven Station and not need to mess with local transportation. The train schedule was timed well for making a long day of it – I hiked 15 minutes round trip and still had time for dinner at a full sit-down restaurant in Fairhaven before it was time to get the train back. The only downside was the price. At $23 per person each way, the round trip total for two people was $96. I admit that only a die-hard railfan would spend more money going to Bellingham on Amtrak than what it would have cost with Zipcar. Especially since at the end, when we finally arrived at King St. Station, we got to say hello to our wonderful level of bus service at 10:00 on a Sunday night and spend nearly another hour getting from downtown to the U-district.

      5. Did you check the timetable though?

        The problem is that they can’t exactly leave early. If the border crossing takes much shorter time than estimated then they wind up being early, and they have to wait to leave on schedule.

        Amtrak winds up having to do the same thing every once in a while – believe it or not.

    5. The 592 is a pilot project to test Olympia-Seattle service so it could expand to something larger. Originally it was a regular ST Express route to Du Pont, and then Intercity Transit got a state grant to extend it to Olympia. The 592 had seats empty so ST didn’t have to add buses. It’s good for Olympia residents working in Seattle, but unfortunately it’s useless if you’re living in Seattle going to Olympia for the day.

  5. We took Amtrak up and Bolt back to watch a World Cup game in Vancouver recently. The Bolt trip was suprisingly nice — until we hit Mountlake Terrace. Two hours to get from there to downtown. I almost jumped out the window when we passed 50th — it would have been quicker to walk home from there. The train is far from a speed demon but it’s better than that. Amtrak is still champion (well, float plane is best but oh so costly).

    1. Back when all-day service to Everett was on the 510, rather than the 512, you could actually get from the U-district all the way to Everett Station in no more time than it would take to reach King St. Station in the opposite direction. Door-to-door, catching the Amtrak at Everett Station, rather than King St. Station saved about 45 minutes, plus a few dollars on the train fare. Now, with the 512’s additional travel time to Everett, the time advantage of doing that is less, and when U-link opens, it will probably go away entirely.

  6. What’s the story with no Salem, Oregon stop? They stop in Albany. I would kind of think Portland – Salem would be popular… now its MAX Downtown Portland to Beaverton, WES Beaverton to Wilsonville, and then a local Wilsonville-Salem bus to get from Portland to Salem.

    1. MAX and WES to Wilsonville? i suppose that is one way to do it. Getting to Wilsonville also could be done on the 96. Or an assortment of stuff to Barbur Blvd Transit Center and take Wilsonville’s 2 from there to Wilsonville. It seems like there are a few other alternatives as well.

      Downtown Salem is a pain to get to on a through bus schedule. Interstate 5 goes several miles east of downtown.

      You could get from Portland to downtown Salem on the business loop of 99E without too much of a mess, but then getting from there back on I-5 on the south side is a tangle.

      The good news is that the horrific crap you see with freeway backups on the on-ramps in Seattle or Portland in areas near the freeway doesn’t exist in Salem, because there isn’t a freeway through town. It’s a bit like what you would get if I-5 didn’t exist through Seattle, but instead is where I-405 is.

      The bad news is that this a large number of the local streets are horribly busy through downtown Salem, which makes the place much less pleasant to get around on foot than it really should be.

      Also, look at the Amtrak and Greyhound schedule. There’s lots of alternative service between Portland and Salem besides the Wilsonville to Salem buses.

      1. Yeah they finally fixed the Cascades schedule for south of Portland service (like allowing a day trip south of Portland), though I hear to mixed results.

      2. Day trips have always been possible. Just not always on the train. There are lots of thruway buses instead. There still are.

        The return train going north at 4 pm out of Eugene seems quite popular. The train going down from Portland at 6 am is nearly vacant.

        So where in hell are all those northbound passengers coming from? BoltBus? The thruways? Coast Starlight passengers that stopped off in Eugene for an extended smoke break?

        I’m still dumbfounded by the huge traffic jams on Interstate 5 going north in the afternoons, especially just south of Portland on Sundays. There isn’t anything like that amount of activity going on in downtown Portland at 4 in the afternoon on Sundays. There isn’t anything like that amount of population that lives close to downtown Portland for them to be coming back from anything.

        Getting the trains snd buses (BoltBus or Amtrak Thruway or Oregon POINT services) to work well means trying to make them meet the travel demands. In the Willamette Valley, I don’t think anyone has yet figured out what those demands actually are.

      3. “Getting the trains snd buses (BoltBus or Amtrak Thruway or Oregon POINT services) to work well means trying to make them meet the travel demands. In the Willamette Valley, I don’t think anyone has yet figured out what those demands actually are.”

        You make a fascinating point. I wonder how we could figure out what they are? Surveys?

  7. I’d love to see Seattle Spokane service on Bolt, but I am guessing the demand probably just isn’t there.

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