Comparing Bolt Bus and Amtrak

As I write this I’m currently aboard a bus headed from Portland Oregon to Seattle Washington. In the past I’ve always taken Amtrak for this trip, and have been generally pleased, but on a recommendation from a couple of different people have decided to try out Bolt Bus as an alternative. And so here I am.

There were a few advantages I was told Bolt Bus had over Amtrak. Some of them are holding up, and some not so much.

Price

The first one is price, and and it holds up immediately. The same trip from Portland to Seattle on Amtrak would cost me $50 (add $18 for business class), and Bolt Bus was $20. They’re pricing scheme works something along the lines of it being cheaper when the bus is less full, so it could be a bit less or a bit more than what I paid, depending on when you book your trip.

Wi-Fi & Power

One thing Wi-Fi was more reliable than on Amtrak. This probably has to do with there being more cell towers closer to the freeway, but it doesn’t matter because Wi-Fi was out on this bus today. I don’t know how common this is, since I’ve only ridden once before. Since I have a tethering data plan on my iPhone I wasn’t too disappointed.

If you want to use technology, they do at least have enough plugs for everyone — one per seat — which Amtrak does not always have. Getting off fully charged removes just a little bit of the stress of going to a city I don’t live in. I do think if you upgrade to business on Amtrak a plug is guaranteed, but at more than 3x the cost of Bolt Bus.

Comfort

The seats are a bit smaller — I’d describe them as marginally larger than an economy seat on an airplane. It’s okay, but not great. Speaking of leg room, not being able to walk around kind of sucks. I’m fidgety though, so maybe that wouldn’t bother someone else as much.

No-matter what time I book these trips for, I always seem to be in a rush to get out the door and forget to eat or make coffee. Needless to say, when my blood sugar tanks and I contract a wicked caffeine headache halfway on this trip, I’m going to miss the dining car (even if the coffee is the worst I’ve ever had anywhere).

Other Differences

  • The Amtrak gets in when it says it will, this is more approximate. The website said arrive at 5:30, the driver said 5:30-6:00.
  • The travel time is about the same for this trip.

Conclusion

If you have either available, Bolt Bus is a decent alternative when cost is a concern and you can remember to eat beforehand. If the $40 doesn’t matter to, I’d take Amtrak and pay for business seating.