7 Reasons To Take The Bus

by David DeFranza on 16 March 2008 20 comments
Photo: janetmck

In the deeply entrenched hierarchy of transportation options, flying has always been comfortable in its position above all others. Recently, air travel's superior convenience has been eroded by crowded routes, increasing delays, and long security lines. At the same time, increases in fuel prices have made budget fares difficult to find. By now, the glamor of flight has faded in the eyes of most travelers.

Meanwhile, a once lowly mode of transportation, the bus, has been working hard to craft its niche in the budget market. More comfortable buses and cheaper fares are covering more routes than ever before.

Here are seven reasons to consider taking the bus:

1. Cost

Low cost airlines have made huge progress in America over the last five years, but even at their most discounted, it is hard to compete with the bus. The well known "China Town" buses continue to operate between Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Washington D.C with fares around $15 one way. At the same time, newcomers like BoltBus have introduced fares on similar routes as low as $1. Even Greyhound has introduced a group of fares that range in price from $13 to $34 one way.

2. Coverage

Cheap buses have always been available to take you around town, but it used to be that longer routes were limited to trips between New York and Boston. Recently, however, these low cost buses have dramatically increased their route coverage extending up and down the both coasts, around the Midwest, and even, with some changes between carriers, across the country. Currently, Gotobus and the British owned Megabus dominate these networks. Of course, if you are thinking about taking a really long trip, Greyhound still claims it will take you anywhere in the United States for $99.

3. Time

I know what you are thinking: sounds good, but the bus is so slow. It is true that while the bus plods along around 55 mph, the airplane is high above, cruising at hundreds of miles an hour. But when you add up connection times and layovers, indirect routes that cater to an airline's hubs instead of your travel plans, and the time it takes to get to and from airports, the time savings in transit are drastically reduced.

The bus, which has a main station in the center of most cities, may indeed get you there faster, especially if you are traveling to a nearby city. I don't even want to get into the hassle caused by delayed, canceled or missed airline connections, but it does remind me of my next point...

4. Reliability

I have been a frequent traveler on the route between New York City and Syracuse, which passes through a notorious snow belt. These trips have taught me one thing: the bus will continuing driving though conditions that would stop your personal car, let alone an airplane. It is very rare for a bus to be canceled and, in my experience, the companies know their routes well enough that significant delays are rare (though they do occur, of course). When you book a bus ticket you can be almost guaranteed that the bus will depart as scheduled.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

5. Its More Green

Many analysts say that one flight produces the same amount of CO2 per person per mile as if the passengers were driving alone in separate cars. In addition, airplanes emit many other harmful materials and it all goes directly into the upper atmosphere. The result of this, we are told, is that the damage to the atmosphere done by flying is almost twice that of driving the same number of miles in a car. When you look at the numbers, a full bus is much more gentle on the environment than a flight of the same distance. That said, the debate is ongoing.

6. Free Wi-Fi

The second major complaint commonly voiced about bus travel, after its perceived slowness, is that it is uncomfortable. Interestingly, as many airlines stripamenities to become more bus-like, some bus lines have taken action to make travel more comfortable. A notable example is the BoltBus, which in addition to its $1 fares, offers free Wi-Fi access on all of its routes.

7. Flexibility

Many bus lines offer exceptional flexibility with their tickets. Greyhound, for one, allows you to use a ticket for the reserved route on any day or time for which there is availability, up to a year after the original departure date. Other companies, notably Megabus, allow you to change your reservation with 24 hours advance notice and only a $1 service charge. I have also found drivers to be very generous with the baggage allowances as long as the bus is not too full, something you will never experience flying.

The humble bus is coming back as a cheap and friendly alternative to flying. With the environmental controversy, security and scheduling hassles, and increasing prices andsafety concerns, why not give this old, budget travel standby, another chance?

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Guest's picture

Another major advantage of all overland travel is that you can actually see where you are going!

Compare flying from Paris to Bordeaux to the delicious pleasure of a bus trip through the farm lands, villages etc.

albert (www.thoughtsintime.co.za)

Guest's picture
Looby

I agree, the bus isn't comfortable argument can be laughed at by anyone who has flown economy recently, especially on a budget airline. That said I prefer trains when I travel longer distances if it is an option. As the commenter above noted buses and trains give you an opportunity to look about and take in the country side.

Guest's picture
Lucille

When you get out in the more rural parts of the midwest your options go down. Greyhound pulled out a few years ago. We now have one regional bus line but of course none of the routes match up with the Amtrak routes to get you further out.

Where we live doesn't have Amtrak either. This is actually adding to our list of things we want when we move and part of why were moving. It too difficult and expensive to go anywhere.

After hearing nightmare story after nightmare story dealing with TSA or being held hostage on the tarmac by an airline without food or working toilets, flying is pretty low on our list.

Guest's picture
plonkee

I've had the somewhat dubious pleasure of taking many overnight bus trips in several countries, and none of them were fun, but they were only marginally worse than an overnight flight. On shorter distances (up to around 3-4 hours travelling time) bus probably wins out. Of course, the train is better than both, but can be less convenient and/or more expensive.

Guest's picture

I generally take the Red Arrow between Edmonton and Calgary. It's downtown to downtown, has wider seats than the plane, laptop plugins and WiFi, and complimentary beverages and snacks. It's three hours door to door plus about a half-hour of travel time to and from. We get a corporate rate, making it cheaper than flying and I can accumulate frequent travel rewards, which pay for future trips.

Julie Rains's picture

The second leg of a cross-country trip I took was by bus: the first was by an unairconditioned Chevy Chevette from NC to Yellowstone park. Flights were expensive from Yellowstone to Charlotte, so I opted to take the bus to LA and see a friend in law school at Pepperdine University and then fly from LA to Charlotte.

As I stood in line to board the bus, a woman asked me to watch her daughter (Carrie, 13 years old but looked 18) so we buddied around for the next 30 hours or so on the Greyhound bus. Meanwhile, the woman called her older daughter and alerted her to our schedule for pickup at the LA bus station (which was the nicest one we encountered, most were in not particularly safe parts of town). I then let the family take me to my friend's apartment in Malibu on their way to Santa Barbara (and lived to tell about it). So, you can meet nice people on the bus...

Guest's picture
Matt

Honestly, unless you live near a very large city, or you're close to where you intend to travel, you really don't save much or anything to take the bus or train. The actual fuel cost to drive from my area to Chicago and back is about $80 if I drive myself and this is the same price as a round trip ticket on Grayhound. It's about twice as much to take Amtrak and I have to drive two or so hours to get to the station. Now, if I share the gas costs with a friend or two, the cost of driving becomes far, far less, it's faster, and gives me a measure of freedom.

I would love to take the Megabus or Boltbus or any other cheap mode of travel, but even in a city of 50,000, less than an hour from a metro with a pop of 600,000, right by the junction of I-35 and I-80, there isn't much choice available. I'd hardly consider this area to be truly rural, but I'd say the vast majority of the country gets the shaft when it comes to inexpensive travel.

Guest's picture
Guest

So what town do you live in that's next to Des Moines?

We used to go to Osceola and take the Amtrak to Chicago. No parking worries, no gas....it was wonderful, we could read or goof off during the trip. And if we could find a ride to Osceola? Fantastic. Though if speed were the issue, I would drive. :)

Guest's picture

Taking the bus provides us with an opportunity to do some 'incidental' exercise. Instead of walking to the nearest bus stop. Get up a little earlier and walk to the next bus stop. Do the same thing on the way home and all of a sudden you've done some incidental exercise.

Craig

David DeFranza's picture

I certainly agree that watching the landscape pass is a joy of overland travel. Not only that, but I think it is an important activity for meeting locals when traveling abroad. As Julie points out, it can be just as good a place for meeting people in your native country.

Obviously, depending on the coverage in your area, your mileage with these low cost bus lines will vary (pardon the pun, I couldn't resist).

Guest's picture
Guest

I have to travel frequently, and as a student, I don't have any money. I've have used the bus, and quite frankly, hated it. Long layovers, frequent delays, the fact that it is, in actualaty, not comforatable, as well the fact that the bus has NO flexibility in ticket times. The hours of travel are usually terrible.

I found that riding the train is cheaper, faster, 10xs more comforatable, and all around a better experience. Of course, I travel rural routes, but that has to be taken into account when considering the overall quality of transportation.

Guest's picture

don't take a 10-hour bus trip from San Francisco to Salt Lake City 3 days after having major surgery.

I'm just saying.

:-)

Beth

Guest's picture

I have used Greyhound, and Chinatown buses from to NYC Boston, Pilly. I would say there is a lot of room for improvement before bus becomes main stream mode.

Guest's picture
Kathryn

What is up with train fares, anyhow? When I was researching transit options from DC to NYC for a trip I made with my son a few months ago, it turned out that it was actually more expensive to take Amtrak that it would have been to fly!

I hated doing it, but we wound up driving and parking in Manhattan. Even with parking and tolls and everything it was both cheaper than any alternative and somewhat more convenient, given the fact that, among other things, we needed to find our way out to Long Island and back for an evening concert.

Guest's picture
tracyho

For the sake of strecth our money & you had extra time why not ?

Great of sharing the good point of it ,

Tracy ho
wisdomgettingloaded

Guest's picture
david

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Guest's picture
Freaking Out

im tearing my hair out right at this moment. I cannot find a ride to kansas. I live in Manchester NH and im looking for the cheapest way to get to kansas. i just cant find a DAmn thing out there under 300 us im looking at being there from about july 10 to the 31st and i just cant find one

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