Gear We Like
Bolt Bus – Busing it with WiFi
A bus isn’t the first mode of transportation that comes to mind when you think of technology. In my mind, it goes something like this:
Airplane –> High-speed train –> Car –> Bus –> Horse & Carriage
So when I heard of a new bus outfit called Bolt Bus doing a route in the Pacific Northwest of the USA between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver Canada, with free WiFi and AC outlets onboard, I thought it might make for a good opportunity to catch up on some work.
The Bolt Bus Experience
Right on time, the slick-looking, red & black bus arrived in downtown Seattle outside the International District / Chinatown light-rail station. After I gently placed my main bag in the storage underneath, I hopped on the bus and picked a seat. Kelvin, the friendly driver, introduced himself and told a few jokes to loosen up the crowd before mentioning that the router needed rebooting, and the inverter on the right side of the bus for the AC outlets was on the fritz. That would be my side. Not the end of the world though, as the bus was less than 1/2 full and I could move if I really needed an outlet.
The seats are comfortable, leather, and offer what I would assume is decent legroom. I’m short so you’ll have to take my word for it as I can only eyeball the potential legroom for taller guests. AC outlets are available on the backs of most seats (provided they are working). One glaring omission that quickly became apparent is the lack of a fold up table tray like the ones you would find on an airline.
How Is the Bolt Bus WiFi?
With a start of the engine, the “Bolt Bus” network name came alive. No access on my Galaxy Nexus smartphone, and only one bar on my laptop told me that the router’s signal strength was weak.. So weak in fact that it took about 15min to connect the first time, and dropped out every few minutes. I was sitting in the middle of the bus, and everyone I could see had put away their laptops and smartphones by this point.
I did manage to run a speed test.
Not so good.
The connection is does not require a password, meaning it is unsecured. This leaves your internet connection, including web traffic and logins, open to snooping. I would highly advise you to use a VPN to secure your connection on any unsecured wifi hotspot including on Bolt Bus.
The connection dropped in and out as we went, and besides a few tabs open for research, Facebook, and G-Mail, I didn’t try for much, scared I might clog the tubes.
With the bus nearing my Portland destination, I feel I can wrap up the review. My suggestion, don’t book expecting much for WiFi access. It was barely good enough to warrant keeping my laptop on to work. Worse than that though, is the pain in my neck (literally) from looking down to my laptop screen that has to sit on my lap. No table tray makes for an unhappy body, and now I’m slouching so I don’t need to look down quite so far. Guess I’ll trade some of that neck pain for back pain…
A trip on the Bolt Bus is cheap though. Fares from $1 if you book early, and mine was $15 a few days out. This is less than 1/2 of a ride on the Amtrak train, and a fraction of a flight.
Unfortunately besides a great price, Bolt Bus doesn’t necessarily offer much for the traveler with tech. If you want to check your e-mail and you don’t have a 3G/4G connection on your phone, I’m sure it will suffice, but heavy work times are just not an option unless you enjoy chronic neck pain. It’s just unfortunate that I have an 8hr+ ticket booked from Portland to Vancouver in a week’s time…
– Cheap price
– Relatively comfortable seating
– No baggage hassles
– AC outlets for charging your gear
– Slow, unreliable WiFi access
– Lack of a table tray makes for poor ergonomics on a laptop