Intercity bus travel in North America
This article is a travel topic
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.
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.
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.
There are a few large companies (listed below) that serve many routes, and many smaller companies that operate a much smaller number of routes. Recently, the bus industry has supported the development of bus search aggregators. These bus search engines collects, standardizes and displays bus data from the hundreds on bus companies to better serve customer in a large and diverse market. The largest of these bus search aggregators is wanderu.com, much like redbus.in in India.
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 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 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 bought 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 operates many routes in the nation's heartland. States covered include Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington and Wyoming.
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 $2.00 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.
Upon arrival at one's destination city, getting to the actual destination within the city is another matter. Depending on the city, the terminal may or may not be centrally located. Besides, everyone's plans once they arrive are quite individualistic, and while one passenger's destination may be within a close walk of the terminal, another's could require some serious travel to get there.
Try to learn what transit agencies serve the destination city, what the bus routes are, and how often they run. If you plan to use a taxicab, research how easy it is to get one in that city. In some cities, taxicabs are readily available for flagdown on the street or at the bus station. In others, they must be hired in advance via a phone call. If that is the case, learn the numbers of some taxicab companies in that city.
Some bus terminals are found in sheltered buildings staffed by heavy security aimed at limiting presence to those who really belong. Others are under the open sky in the public domain, and in the absence of a bus, there is no staffing from anyone affiliated with the bus service. In the latter situation, passengers remain at the mercy of whoever happens to be around. In some areas, especially lower class urban areas, safety can be a prime concern.
If one must wait for a bus in such a place, one should be alert to their surroundings. Keep in mind an open, well-lit area to where one can escape easily if you feel uneasy, especially if alone. If a significant number of people are waiting for the bus, it should be safe.
Alighting the bus in such an area is another issue. While waiting for a bus, there could be dozens of others waiting as well who will remain there until the bus arrives. But following departure, most passengers will disperse and rapidly head off to their destinations, not mindful of the plans of others. So it is very important in this situation to have a plan before you take off on your journey.
On a bus, one spends a significant amount of time in close contact with a large number of other people. Most likely, most of these people are in good health and practice good health habits. The fact is, since the seats on the bus are shared by lots of people, are rarely completely sanitized, and there is no escape for germs, protection must be taken to prevent disease.
Carrying hand sanitizer is very helpful. Hand sanitizer comes in containers of a variety of sizes and is quite portable and convenient, and it kills many types of germs that can cause disease. It is good to have in the absence of running water. The use of hand sanitizer prior to eating or touching openings on one's face greatly reduces the chance of catching a communicable disease. But even hand sanitizer cannot be relied on to perfectly protect oneself.
Another issue when it comes to sanitation is the lavatory on the bus. Since there is no running water, handwashing is not possible. Hand sanitizer may seem like a great alternative, and some bus companies will even provide it in the lavatory. Hand sanitizer provides a very nice psychological sense of cleanliness. But the reality is that the active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is alcohol, a great killer of most viruses and bacteria that cause diseases that are contagious from human to human, but with absolutely no effect on Escherichia coli, the main bacterial species found in fecal matter. If E. coli enters other tracts of the body, it can really make one sick.
If you plan to eat while on the bus, especially after using the lavatory, try to avoid allowing your hands to have contact with the food or your mouth. Use clean, sanitary eating utensils or previously unused napkins to handle the food.
Also, do not judge others by their looks, as microbial matter is not visible to the naked eye. A person who is clean looking with nice, clean clothes who smells nice and appears to have bathed recently may be carrying plenty of hidden germs. At the same time, a blue dollar worker whose hands are full of grease may be much cleaner than you think because this grease does not readily harbour microbes.