Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bus Lessons

I am going to visit my friend of 28 years on Saturday (the Other Marie, for those of you keeping track) and I don't really feel like driving.

For one thing, driving is expensive, between tolls and gas. And another thing—I'm a screaming advocate of public transport.

And then there's my car having no A/C, and me not really wanting to show up looking disgusting. That's really why I rented a car when I went to visit friends last month. (I guess this didn't bother me when I was going to meet my mother. Sorry, Mom.)

Not wanting to drive to Marie's house in Northern Virginia is no problem. She's not too far from the Metro. Once upon a time, this would have been a hassle, as I would have had to fork over a lotta dough for the train or bus.

But for years now, we've had discount buses. First, there was an upstart company called Peter Pan. Then Greyhound acquired Peter Pan, squashing the discount bus market for at least ten minutes before buses from the New York Chinatown to the DC Chinatown took over. After a few years of the buses making serious inroads into the market, non-Chinatown discount buses appeared, mostly out of the Penn Station area in New York. New destinations were added.

Discount buses now weave around the East Coast, between all major cities but also to smaller destinations like Syracuse, Dover, and Hartford.

I scored a $35.50 roundtrip ticket this morning. That's from Penn Station (by the Sbarro, where all those people mill about the sidewalk and block pedestrians, for those of you who notice that sort of thing) to the Greenbelt, MD, Metro station. That's a great deal given the costs of tolls and gas to DC, plus I can sleep, read, or use the bus wi-fi. Which we all know I've "borrowed" in the past when buses pulled up near me in New Jersey Turnpike rest areas. And because I'm taking Boltbus and am a member of their loyalty program, I get first choice of seats.

But I didn't automatically go straight to Boltbus. Initially, I saw that the Boltbus I wanted was sold out and so I started looking at other possibilities. I didn't want to schedule a trip too early since it's hard to get out of bed and to the bus stop on time. But I wanted to arrive before 1 p.m.

First, I checked Boltbus and Megabus.

Second, I checked and compared these two bus search engines that feature other companies:

The former search engine considers Greyhound, Boltbus, Megabus, and several smaller bus lines. It only deals with major destinations.

The latter links to many tiny bus lines and covers the smaller destinations.

There is some crossover between the last two, but they do actually feature different routes and agencies. For example, GoToBus can tell you how to get to Connecticut or Ohio. You won't find that on BusJunction, but you will find Greyhound and Boltbus.

I almost bought a ticket on an obscure bus line, but then plugged my parameters into BusJunction. There, you can search by city rather than by the bus stop. So while I'd been searching for Washington DC proper on the Boltbus site, I could search by the entire region on the search engine.

Bingo. $19 to Greenbelt, MD Metro, and $16 in reverse. I get first boarding privileges on Boltbus, have to take the Metro to Alexandria anyway, and if I take 8 trips, I get one free.

I booked on the Boltbus site to get my points. I feel guilty—the search engine deserved the commission.

But I'm selfish about bus points. I'm well-trained from frequent flyer mile hoarding.

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