Reports of BoltBus’ Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The discount bus line, synonymous with cheap trips from Boston to NYC, says it's not going anywhere.

A BoltBus going up the Avenue of Americas in Manhattan. Bolt offers fares to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and DC for as low as one dollar.

BoltBus lives.

At least, that’s what the discount bus brand is saying, pushing back against rumors that its “indefinite” suspension of service meant it was the end of the road for the fleet of New York-bound coaches.

BoltBus riders around Boston spent the last week fondly (or sometimes less-than-fondly) reminiscing about trips on the famously inexpensive buses, lamenting the death of one of the last remaining bargains for travelers hoping to making it from here to the Big Apple, Philadelphia, or Washington, D.C. It was seen as yet another casualty of the pandemic and the devastation it wrought on businesses generally and the travel industry specifically.

But Greyhound, which established the BoltBus brand with Peter Pan in 2008 and has owned it wholly since 2017, says not so fast. Spokeswoman Crystal Booker tells me people have gotten the wrong idea, and that although the big orange buses and their ads for the impossibly cheap $1 fares are off the road for at least a little while longer, they are not gone for good. BoltBus is adamant that it will return at some point, and that “at this time there are no plans to alter the ‘Bolt for a buck’ $1 fare.”

BoltBus discontinued service when ridership plummeted last year, and according to Greyhound, the fleet has been undergoing “renovations,” including updates to its “technology” and “internal processes” ever since. In the meantime, Greyhound buses will be taking over BoltBus routes. Somewhat confusingly, Greyhound is also continuing using many of its BoltBuses for Greyhound service, so you’ll still see them on the road.

The confusion around the fleet getting shut down seems to stem from how riders interpreted recent comments from BoltBus, indicating that despite the increase in domestic travel amid a so-far waning pandemic, “Currently there is not a timeline to return BoltBus operations,” which prompted longtime users of the service to bid it goodbye.

There was reason for lamentation. For many who grew up or went to school in Boston after BoltBus debuted in 2008, a trip aboard BoltBus provided inexpensive passage to the big city. It wasn’t necessarily a luxurious experience, but BoltBus offered amenities other bargain buses didn’t at the time, notably free WiFi and charging stations. It also had a singular focus on nonstop trips between a handful of cities in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. The big selling point, though, was the fact that seemingly impossible prices—as low as $1 a seat if you got lucky through the company’s lottery system—were within reach. People who had the foresight to plan far in advance could book a trip to the Big Apple for practically nothing.

A pretty big deal, considering how pricey the alternatives can be. Amtrak tickets to NYC can cost as much as $100 for coach seats each way, a price that’s often comparable to flying. Driving is only an option if you, you know, own a car, and can stomach paying to park it in NYC once you get there.

When I asked on Twitter this week for people to share their BoltBus memories, friends and strangers alike reached out to share tales about traveling to milestone moments in their lives via the service, despite having limited funds in their bank accounts. One user said she took a BoltBus to see her dad run the NYC marathon in 2011. Another said BoltBus was the backbone of “my first ‘real adult adventure,’ visiting friends between DC, Philly, and NYC,” and that the buses were a lifeline for “all the broke kids.”

That is not to say that taking a BoltBus was always a smooth experience. Taking any bus city-to-city has always been a risky gambit. This reporter can confirm that delayed departures, traffic jams (in two similarly congested cities!), and sundry mechanical issues on buses definitely come with the territory. You do, ultimately, get what you pay for. A friend recalled that a BoltBus “got me to NYC dirt cheap in 2017,” adding, “Sure one of the buses broke down, we had to transfer onto another bus, and I was sitting in a pool of my own sweat for 90 minutes but….can’t beat the price!”

Still, BoltBus never quite carried the baggage of another bygone bus brand that was once a Boston staple: the infamous Fung Wah, which shuttered in 2015 after a two-year hiatus. Although Bolt did occasionally suffer some bad press after incidents on the road, it sought a reputation as a safer, less mayhem-ridden alternative to Fung Wah, a service that had become the butt of the joke.

If we take BoltBus at its word, it will not suffer a similar fate. Like many aspects of life we took for granted before the pandemic—ease of passage through the Canadian border, mask-free travel aboard the MBTA, public access to the State House—we will simply have to wait a little longer to get back to normal. Thankfully, travel to NYC for a buck isn’t going out of style.