bolt bus

The wheels on the bus go round and round, all the way to Portland.

In the age of two-story airplanes and electric cars, buses don’t get much respect. When east coast staple BoltBus debuts later this month, however, it’ll make a case for coach travel.

Launched in 2008, Bolt was a competitor to the Chinatown routes that offered dirt-cheap travel between major eastern cities. The Bolt service has two calling cards: Wi-Fi on each bus, and fares as low as $1.

Bolt brings both to the Seattle-Portland route, its first on the West Coast. Don’t think of it as a competitor to mainstay Greyhound; the upstart is actually owned by the old gray fleet, targeting a younger, more wired clientele. Beginning on May 17, Bolt buses will leave Seattle across from the International District Station at 5th Avenue South and King Street. They’re equipped with leather seats, power outlets, and free Wi-Fi. Like an airline, Bolt rewards frequent riders with free trips and early boarding.

The $1 fares are heavily advertised by Bolt, but there are limited one-buck seats available, and each requires a booking fee. Other fares are in the $6 to $10 range (before fees), and tickets are also available from the driver. After a trip of about three and a quarter hours —longer in rush hour, of course—the steel chariots arrive at 647 SW Salmon Street in downtown Portland.

The service is popular on the eastern seaboard, though out there, Bolt’s Wi-Fi service is known to be spotty. Currently one-way Amtrak prices to Portland for early June are as low as $32, Greyhound is at $17, and an Alaska direct flight costs about $80 each way. So Seattle riders just may brawl over the few $1 fares on BoltBus.