This is a guest post written by Malcolm Muir for AirlineReporter.com. Here is his experience with Bolt Bus in his own words (note: Malcom paid his own way there and back) …
A last minute trip north to Vancouver gave me the opportunity (and an excuse) to try out Bolt Bus. Bolt is a new entrant to the Pacific Northwest market and started operations late May. Bolt is owned and operated by Greyhound and from stories I had heard about service etc. from Greyhound I was a little apprehensive.
Costs were extremely good. A one way ticket method cost the day before departure was only $33 round trip (including the $1 booking fee). This was for a late Friday evening departure and mid-Sundays afternoon return so prime services. Like the airlines, fares can vary depending on the time of day as an earlier return from Vancouver would have saved around $10. Fares start at $1 with Bolt Bus so if you can get in early enough with the booking fee could be $3 round trip.
The boarding passes/booking confirmation is emailed and/or texted to you immediately and you’re set. Bolt Bus boards by groups similar to airline zones (unsure how they are assigned though as I was given Group A for both tickets) which helps to ensure that people won’t just rush the bus when it arrives.
Seattle is the middle point for journeys in either direction so there could be delays that hold up the bus (such as traffic in heavy times) however my bus arrived from Portland about 10 minutes prior to its scheduled departure to Vancouver.
Unfortunately, there currently isn’t any signage at the Seattle departure point (5th Ave S & King Street, the International District bus station) so there were many people milling about with worried looks on their faces asking “does Bolt Bus go from here?”
The buses are all modern looking, with leather seated interiors, more seat pitch compared to the competitors, and power points at each row (mounted to the row in front, so avoid the first row as none fitted). Free Wi-Fi is offered inboard however it only works as far as the Border crossing as they don’t seem to have coverage in Canada.
One downside of the seat is the lack of a tray table. There is ample room for it to fit and would definitely make working with a laptop easier but it’s not a deal breaker.
Both trips were lightly loaded, so a set of two seats to myself allowed me to spread out the gear and get some work done. Heading north, the traffic was light and the 8pm departure time avoids most of the I5 traffic snarls of an afternoon. We departed a few minutes late out of Seattle, but this, again, is not a deal breaker.
Bolt Bus allows 2 hours from Seattle north to the border, 30 minutes for the border crossing and another hour into Vancouver, ample time in the 2 hours to catch him up and also relax into the weekend.
The border crossing heading north was uneventful other than having ingredients to wait for 5 minutes while they found some staff, a few questions and I was stamped into Canada. The continued journey resumed right at the 30 minute mark (they leave once everyone is processed so this is where scheduled time could take a hit) and completed the journey into Vancouver in the allotted 1 hour.
Since there is no food service and no stops between Seattle and Vancouver, you need to bring it with you. I took stuff with me on the bus and had no problems, however be mindful of the border crossing as some foods can’t go over (saw a lady have to bin an apple at US customs). The Seattle stop is a good location to pick up some food as it’s right next to Uwijamaya for some good Japanese/Asian food and drinks at non airport pricing.
There is a bathroom on board the bus, but luckily I did not end up having to use it.
We arrived into a deserted Pacific Central at 1135pm and it is a bit nerve racking to not see any cabs at the terminal but I am sure this will be against changed in the long run once Bolt have been up and running longer.
The journey south was even more painless as there was an extremely light load. The driver separated the boarding groups to control the group easier but in this instance probably was not needed as much. Traffic was very light for a Sunday afternoon and we made the border early and with customs & immigration taking only 15 minutes for the load we were back on the road early.
After an amazing sight returning to Seattle with a blue sky and a magnificent view of Mt Rainer from I5 we actually arrived 30 mins early. A smooth painless journey in either direction.
The journey with Bolt Bus was definitely an easy one, from the simple booking process to the journey itself, more reminiscent of an ultra-express service as no stops are made between cities. A couple of issues do need to be addressed such as connectivity across the border and signage at departure points; however for the price it’s not that big of an issue.
Bolt Bus favors highly over the direct competitors such as Greyhound and Quick bus. But there would be good competition from Amtrak. With Bolt Bus, if loads are light border crossings would be much quicker than Amtrak as they do not have to work through an entire training load of people, however Amtrak is not at the mercy of traffic problems so if a journey was made during the prime peak hour times, this could obviously add significant delays.
Compared to flying though the price is definitely a big difference as a last minute return with Air Canada was pricing in at $600 return for Best Available fare. Amtrak fares were around $100 return.
If you can get the fares for as little as $1 each way, then Bolt bus is definitely a fantastic option and can only improve as the service gets a bit more popular and has time to be able to settle into the PNW market.
A nice service and one that I was not aware of. As one who travels from PDX to SEA far to often (I’ve come to hate t he drive) the mid-day fare of $6. is hard to beat. Extending from home to the PDX departure point it easy by using MAX (Public Light Rail). On the Seattle end, the local public services are just as easy, especially at mid-day. I say again, $6! I’d spend more than that on coffee for the unpleasant drive. Now, you’ve got me thinging about Vancouver. I’ve done it by Amtrak Cascades, but it costs almost as much as flying. Hm!
My husband & I took the Bolt Bus to Vancouver for my birthday, leaving Seattle @ 7:15 am & returning the same night @ 11:15. This is a wonderful service & a fantastic day trip. We went to the zoo, Robson street, had dinner in Chinatown and logged over 18000 steps on my pedometer…we had a blast & will do it again soon!!
Great review – I am enjoying all of the non-aviation reviews to compare and contrast. I would usually never think of the bus, but this seems like quite good value – especially if travelling during non-rush hours
Great review – since so many Canadians elect to fly out from Bellingham or Seattle (as the savings is incredible), maybe you could add a little bit about transferring from the Seattle Bolt Bus dropoff to Seatac? What are the options there?
Upon arrival in Seattle, you’ll be just above the International District/Chinatown Station (Sound Transit Light Rail Train), and one block from King Street Station (Amtrak and Sound Transit Sounder Commuter Train). From the International District Station, you can take the light rail southbound to SeaTac Airport (about 35 minutes).
Amtrak has departures to Tacoma, Los Angeles, Portland, Oakland, Chicago, etc. Sounder Train to Tacoma, Mukilteo (transfer to WSF ferry service to Whidbey Island) and Edmonds (transfer to WSF ferry service to Kingston).
You’re also just a short walk to Coleman Dock for Washington State Ferry service to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton.
There are also a wealth of local King County Metro and Sound Transit buses to destinations all over the region.
If you need a cab, walk to the front entrance of King Street Station – there are always cabs there waiting.
Yes, we agree, pretty neat to read a few non-airline (aircraft) reviews.
I don’t think Amtrak stops at the border. Customs is handled on the train while it is moving, right?
Easy to get to Sea-Tac from the Seattle BoltBus stop: the Link light rail stop is nearby (and so is the Amtrak King St. station) and it goes to Sea-Tac.
If traveling northbound, the train does not stop at the border. Customs is handled upon arrival at the terminal in Vancouver. Southbound is another story. You go through passport control and customs just before you board the train in Vancouver. Then, at the border the train stops and you repeat the entire process, which has never taken less than 45 minutes, not to mention the time it took to get on the train. A complete waste of time and taxpayer dollars if you ask me.
If you wanted to train one way and bus the return, I suggest training northbound and bus southbound.
I am an elderly but very active woman and wish to go to Seattle to attend the King Tut Exhibit. Do you think this could be done on a day trip???
Great write-up. Comprehensive with great photos. Thank you!
I live in Vancouver and just learned about the Bolt Bus today! I would like to try to get halfway to my final destination of LA. From Portland, what are the cheapest ways to get to LA? Is there something as cheap and as “express” (no interstitial stops) as Bolt Bus?
Bolt Bus is the only way to travel from Portland to Vancouver. The round trip ride was great! I got a lot done since I had access to WiFi. There is a bathroom on the bus too. I have relatives in Vancouver BC, but the drive was a bear, especailly in winter. I think I’ll be Bolting up there more often. Our drivers were great and Eric driving us back to Portland was a friendly and curteous driver. Got the ticket online, round trip $50.00!! Much more than I have spent just on gas! Cannot beat this inexpensive, comfortable ride, highly recommended.
How far is the Bolt to the Princess and Holland America cruise terminals?
On which end? Both sides unfortunately would be a cab ride at least.
Thanks Malcolm for your suggestions. Please see comments to Sanda.
Actually Didi, I had already researched that as I will be using the BOLT bus to go to my Princess cruise in August. The Cruise terminal is less than a 2 mile walk or walk 3 minutes to the Main Skytrain station and you have a 13 minutes ride on the train. https://maps.google.com/?q=49.27372,-123.09807
You’re in luck that I just happened to look at this page today, 3 days after you asked your question. Mindboggling.
Thanks Sanda…you are most helpful!
Bolt does not run on Sundays. You will need a taxi to get downtown.
We took the Amtrak for less than $40 instead of the Quick shuttle for $57 which makes too many stops, while the Amtrak goes direct from station to station. It is best to reserve at least 48 hrs in all cases.
Bolt does in fact run on Sundays. I caught that one home on a Sunday and I just checked todays schedule (being a Sunday) and it does operate. What you may find is that services are heavily booked on Sundays and that also you can only book about 5-6 weeks in advance with Bolt Bus, so you can’t check schedules 2-3 months down the track.
Its 9:30 pm Pacific Time Zone. I just received a telephone call from my 20 year old son who was taking the BoltBus from Portland to Vancouver, BC. While having his documents checked at the US-Canada border crossing, the bus left. He is now sitting at the border crossing station trying to procure another ride. The Canadian Officers were very apologetic and are trying to help him. They told him this happens with Bolt every few months. I will be in contact with Bolt tomorrow. Please post here if you’ve had a similar experience or if you have any advice on what action to take against Bolt. Thank you.
This design is wicked! You most certainly know how to keep a reader entertained.
Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that,
how you presented it. Too cool!
Great review. Another bus option between Vancouver and Seattle is the Quick Coach. The price is a bit higher but when you are traveling from/to Sea-tac or YVR airport this bus is great since it has stops at both airports aswell as downtown Seattle and Vancouver. Service is great, busses are nice the rest is pretty much the same as Bolt Bus.