Thursday, April 28, 2011

Culture Lesson: How to Ride Bolt Bus

I made my first Maryland to New York trip on Bolt Bus last April. Since moving to New York last fall, I've taken several trips. Because I've decided I am an expert, I thought I'd share some of my advice and tips, gathered from hours upon hours of bus riding experience. This is not an endorsement and I have not been paid to write this post.

Bolt is owned by Greyhound. (Bolt is also owned by Peter Pan, but Peter Pan is owned by Greyhound.) It currently serves the Northeastern United States, and goes to the following cities: Baltimore, Boston, Cherry Hill (New Jersey), Greenbelt (Maryland), New York, Newark (NJ), and Philadelphia.

Bolt's big draw is that the seats are wider and more comfortable, each seat has a power outlet, each bus provides Wi-Fi, all rides are non-stop, all buses have bathrooms, and each ticket guarantees a seat.

This is all mostly true. Some buses I've taken look like they've been recycled from the Greyhound fleet, but they're fairly comfortable. (Most buses really are brand new. And that makes me feel safe!) Every seat has its own outlet—either in the bottom center of the seat in front of you or at the top of the aisle seat in front of you—except for the seats in the middle. (If you need an outlet, check the seat before you sit down.) Most buses have free Wi-Fi. (If you can't get online, and you have the nerve—I don't—let the driver know!) Bolt made the buses non-stop (on my route, at least) some time in the late fall. Sometimes the driver pulls over for personal reasons, but then quickly resumes the trip. (So bring snacks!)

Bolt advertises $1 tickets. These do exists. The first ticket for each scheduled trip is $1, so you'll need to know you want your trip four to six weeks in advance, and book early. Prices go up from there the closer you get to your departure date. (Schedules are released four to six weeks in advance.) The most expensive tickets are $25, and it's $25 cash to buy tickets in person when you board.

Tickets are available online at and by phone at 1-877-BOLTBUS (1-877-265-8287).

A customer service representative will tell you your group if you book by phone. Generally your confirmation number will list the group, too. If it starts with an A, B, or C, that is probably your group. (If you change your number to skip groups, and then you try to sit with me, I will ask you to sit somewhere else.)

There is a $0.50 booking fee. Rescheduling your tickets cost $3. 

Bolt boards by groups. And this is probably why I keep booking Bolt over Megabus. Most buses take passengers first come first serve. This is fine, but it can lead to near-riot conditions, no seat guarantee, and a bad seat assignment. (I'm not asking for much, just a seat near the bathroom, please.)

There are four groups: A, B, C, and walk-up boarders. You want to be in Group A, because you board first. The best way to get into Group A is to book early and sign up for the Bolt Rewards program. Even if you book late, you can hop into Group A. Do this even if you don't think you'll take a trip again.

The other benefit to Bolt Rewards is a free one-way ticket for every eight rides/four trips you take. I like to wait until I have two rewards to take a free trip. These rewards are really handy for free last minute trips.

Boarding can be a real hassle if your bus is on the street. This is what you need to do: Find a space on the sidewalk where you're out of the way but have a clear path to the bus when it arrives. Bolt says to get there 15 minutes early. Most buses don't board until departure time, but it's best to be prepared, so heed Bolt's advice.

This will allow you to see where the bus pulls up to the curb. Align yourself with the bus doors, so you can walk to the front of the line when the bus arrives. If you crowd the sidewalk, you'll be a walking hazard for the city's residents. You'll also be shoved aside by fellow passengers. I tend to stand in the back of the crowd and politely push myself forward when my bus arrives. There's no way to avoid someone standing in front of you in New York.

DC tends to congregate into a single line. If there's a line when you arrive (and Union Station has ropes out for groups, but they are rarely used), find the end of your group and put yourself there. If you're in Group A, and you get dirty looks from Group C, politely tell them to suck it. Seriously. Suck it, Group C. If you had Bolt Rewards, then yes, you could stand in front of me.

If you have luggage you plan to stow in the undercarriage, toss your luggage under the bus as soon as it has arrived and opened its carriage. You don't need to waste your time waiting for your group to be called. You an miss your seat if a lithe 19-year-old gets to board before you because you were polite. (Seriously!)

Step forward after the driver calls your group. Don't push or shove anyone. And be nice to the driver when you finally meet. Find your seat when you board, and feel free to take your time adjusting yourself while others search. If you find that you are stuck with an aisle seat, ask if the seat is free before you plop down.

If you board first, you do not get to reserve the seat next to you without a ticket. This is just bad form. You can't tell people they can't sit with you because you want to sit alone on a sold out bus. (The person I asked to sit elsewhere had been hitting on me for an hour, was 18, and annoying. It was mean, but he really pushed my buttons, and I wasn't going to entertain him for the next six hours.)

After the ticketed passengers have settled, the driver will count empty seats and begin to seat walk-up passengers. (See why you want to book in advance?) If you travel on a weekend, or a peak time, you might have a hard time getting a walk-up seat (or a seat alone). The best bet to getting your own seat is late afternoon on a weekday.

After everyone has boarded, and the bus has pulled away, the driver will make an announcement to the bus. He or she will tell you where the bathroom is (back of the bus), remind you to keep your phone conversations quiet, let you know about the Wi-Fi, and give you an estimated time of arrival.

Please be mindful of your fellow passengers. Keep conversations at a minimum level, respect their personal space, and don't text the whole ride if your keys make a noise when you press them. Use head phones if you use a laptop or music device, don't clip your toenails, and keep your personal mess to a minimum.

The bathroom is in the back of the bus. Make sure you lock the door! The light will turn on after the door is locked. (Locking the door will also turn on the light outside the bathroom so passengers will know the bathroom is occupied.) This is how most airplane bathrooms work. There are no sinks but there should be a dispenser with hand sanitizer. There's also a flush button!

Happy riding!

Additional Information:Bolt Bus
Bolt Bus, Twitter
Bolt Bus v. Fung Wah: Which Cheap Bus To Boston Is Least Annoying?, The Awl


Far Out Parties said...

Thank you for this! I don't ride many buses and this seems like a good deal. I'm a 45 year old woman and pretty nervous. Practicing my NY "i don't care" face will by my hobby for the next few days.

Anonymous said...

Very good information! Thanks for sharing. I have to sign up for their rewards program so that i can be in group A. :-)