Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Surfing up and down the east coast

In a previous life, I made a couple of long-haul bus trips across the American southwest. It was an option worth considering for someone with more time than money -- an undergraduate, say -- provided the traveler was someone -- an undergraduate, say -- who didn't mind sitting and occasionally half-sleeping in cramped quarters in the company all manner of interesting people. On the one hand it's slow, something over 40 hours of nearly continuous driving to get about halfway across the continent. On the other hand, you see all sorts of things you'll completely miss in flyover mode. That cuts both ways.

Here in the 21st century it's a whole different game, at least in the Boston-DC corridor. Two carriers, BoltBus and megabus.com, are offering service between major cities aimed not only at scruffy undergrads but also at business travelers. What makes it work?
  • Speed is not such a problem in the target market. Flying will still be considerably faster for the longer routes, even counting time to and from airports, but DC - New York is nowhere near as long a haul as LA - Albuquerque.
  • The bus is still way cheaper.
  • These new busses are spiffy, new, less cramped than Ye Olde Greyhound and ... you knew there it had to be in here somewhere ... webby.
Not only do you book online and bring an email confirmation as your ticket, you can surf while you're on the bus at no extra charge. Check your social networking site, fire off a few emails and tweets, who knows, maybe even get some work done while you're en route.

How does it work? I wasn't able to track down the exact mechanism, but I would have to guess a series of WiMax towers along the route feeding the on-board WiFi.

How well does it work? Well, BoltBus's FAQ cautions that "This technology is new, and there are spots on the trip where the service may be unavailable. We also do not advise downloading large files, as the speed will be relatively slow [...] Plug in and Wi-Fi disclaimer: BoltBus makes every effort to provide these services free of charge to every passenger. However, if, for whatever reason, the service is unavailable we are unable to supply a refund."

Well, whaddya want for a nickel?

I'm not sure which company's transparent attempt to sound like Bus 2.0 works better. You'd think that either CamelCaseNames or domainname.com would be about to fall out of fashion any day now, so I'll give the edge to BoltBus for not using mega.

[Looks like both of these outfits are still in business --D.H. Dec 2015]

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