As Geekwire mentioned the other day, a new low-cost bus service is coming to town. As of May 17, 2012, BoltBus will offer 4-runs-per-day service between Seattle and Portland: 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m., with the trip estimated to take three hours and 15 minutes.
Prices will range depending upon demand (factors include day, time of day, advance purchase, number of tickets, trip sales volume): A promotional all-seats-$1 offer from May 17 through May 20 is selling out (though every regular trip sells one seat for $1, randomly), but after that your reserved seat (aisle or window?) will likely cost between $6 and $15 one-way. (You can purchase walk-up tickets, as well as online.) That is much less expensive than the Amtrak Cascades regular one-way fares of $32 to $45, and fifteen minutes faster (without adding in the risk of wintertime mudslides).
In Seattle, board your BoltBus at 5th Avenue South and King Street, next to the International District Station; it’ll drop you off at 647 SW Salmon Street in Portland, which is a bit more central than Amtrak’s Union Station. You can ease your transition at the Starbucks right there, if need be.
Because Portland is one of the most bike-friendly cities to visit you can imagine, my first question was whether I could bring a bike along. This led to a helpful tutorial on BoltBus baggage policy: “You are allowed one piece of baggage under the coach and two small bags to carry on (purse or backpack).” In theory, your bicycle is the under-the-coach item: “We do allow them and consider them to be oversize items as long as space is available in the baggage area.”
That “as long as space is available” seems to suggest that you should get there early with your bike. (BoltBus suggests checking in at least 15 minutes before departure anyway; at five minutes, reservations are released to stand-bys.) You are in charge of stuffing your bike into the compartment, by the way. Tag your luggage because: “If a bag is left mistakenly behind and is properly marked we will return it to you free of charge.” They don’t say if that applies to the “one infant under the age of two,” you’re allowed to bring on free as well. You can bring food and non-alcoholic drinks “for personal consumption,” and, happily, there’s a restroom.
First established in the northeastern U.S., BoltBus was a partnership between Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus Lines; way out west, it’s exclusively a Greyhound venture, employing yield management economics to offer low-cost fares. But Geekwire is more interested in the fact that BoltBus is that chimerical creature, a low-cost bus line with high-tech perks, emphasizing the “leather seats, free Wi-Fi, and electrical outlets so laptop hounds like us can geek out along the way.” There’s also extra legroom, and a buy-eight-trips-get-one-way-free offer for regular riders.
At the moment, the BoltBus site is distinctly no-frills. They promise mobile site “enhancements” are coming soon, and there’s a FAQ, but the main thing it does is sell you a ticket. Again, that’s in contrast to the Amtrak site, which boasts a scheduling widget that doesn’t understand “seattle, wa” as a departure. It’s “Seattle, WA (SEA),” thank you. Of course it is.