Intercity bus travel in North America

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In North America, intercity bus service is an often economical way to travel between cities, and a very efficient way when traveling between cities near one another. Most intercity bus services use the Interstate Highway system or other limited access highways for the majority of their routes, thereby taking the fastest route they possibly can.

Intercity bus services are generally operated by private, for-profit companies, thereby leading to a price war where there is competition and driving down the prices. In some areas, it is possible to obtain a trip between two cities for as little as $1, though this is extremly rare and only possible around major cities.

Buses can be an interesting way to see the country. Travel is made as comfortable as possible by providing a restroom on the bus (with no running water), comfortable seats, and sometimes small tables for eating, playing cards, or other activities. Some bus companies also show movies on board. Some companies offer wi-fi on board that allow for the connection of a laptop, iPad, or other internet-capable device, and some have power outlets that allow for these devices to be powered and charged.

On shorter runs, sometimes up to several hours long, buses can operate without any stops. But on longer routes, buses are likely to make one or more stops. Some stops are for the purpose of picking up and discharging passengers. Other routes have no actual intermediate stops, but may take breaks in which passengers are able to purchase meals and snacks. Long runs like St. Louis-Phoenix may require service stops where the bus is cleaned and refueled.

Rules

Generally, rules that must be followed on board buses are few and are very basic and to most are common sense. The basic rule is no smoking. Some buses have signs banning eating and drinking, but this is rarely enforced, and passengers who do eat and drink should do their best to clean up after themselves. As common courtesy, noise levels from conversation on cell phones and with other passengers should be kept low. Unlike air travel, security checks are rare, and there are seldom inspections for 'banned' items, though items that are obvious hazards such as firearms may not be brought on board. Each company has its own guidelines regarding live animals.

Border crossings

Some of the intercity bus companies operate routes that cross between the United States and Canada or Mexico. Passengers who travel on border-crossing routes are required to carry their passports, passport cards, or enhanced driver's licenses in order to cross the border. Additionally, citizens of other countries may be required to carry visas.

Agents at border crossings are very scrupulous and check to make sure all passengers are compliant with the requirements to enter the country they are attempting to enter and exit the one they are departing. But bus company staff may not always be so observant to be sure that all their passengers meet the requirements to cross. It is essential that prior to boarding a bus that will cross the border that one has the required travel documents, and has not lost them or left them behind, that they are valid and up to date, and that there are no other issues that may prevent one from crossing.

A passenger who gets on a bus and then discovers at the border that they are unable to cross for any reason will very likely be stranded and have difficulty returning from a place where finding transportation back home is not easy. The bus company is probably unable to assist in these situations and will not likely claim responsibility for such a passenger.

Companies

There are a few large companies (listed below) that serve many routes, and many smaller companies that operate a much smaller number of routes:

Greyhound

Greyhound is the largest provider of intercity bus service in the United States. Greyhound has service to most sizeable cities and town in all 48 states of the contiguous United States except North Dakota; as well as to and within the neighbors of Canada and Mexico.

In most cities, Greyhound stops are sheltered buildings. Greyhound tickets can be purchased at stations, at 7-11 stores, over the phone, or online. Despite a poor reputation, most Greyhound buses are high quality, some being the most advanced in the world.

Greyhound offers direct service between many pairs of cities, and when direct service does not exist, it is possible to transfer between buses, all while paying a single fare. It is in theory possible to travel across the entire country by Greyhound, though it may take several days to complete such a journey, requiring several buses, overnight travel on the buses, and transferring at odd hours.

Trailways

Trailways is another provider of intercity bus service. They are not a single company, but a group of individual companies allied to form a network. Trailways used to have many routes until most of them were brought by Greyhound in 1987. Today it is still possible to travel to many places by Trailways, but some companies are isolated from the system and you must connect through Greyhound. They do serve many places that Greyhound dosen't and ally with Greyhound against other competitors.

Jefferson Lines

Jefferson Lines operates some services contracted by Greyhound.

Megabus

Megabus is one of the largest privately funded providers of city-to-city express bus transportation and serves 135 cities in North America, including routes operated by other Coach USA subsidiaries.

The bus company operates service from 12 hubs in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Texas Triangle (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio), Washington D.C. and Toronto.

Booking on megabus.com can be done on-line (strongly recommended) or over the phone. Payment is only accepted by MasterCard or Visa credit or debit cards. The longer in advance the trip is purchased, the lower the fare is, with one-way fares (not including $0.50 booking fees) starting as low as $1.

Each year Megabus carries six million customers on more than 200,000 trips. Since its launch on 10 Apr 2006, megabus.com has served more than 23 million travelers.