Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

‘BoltBus’ will take you and your bike from Portland to Seattle for a few bucks

Posted by on April 30th, 2012 at 4:33 pm

(Via Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot)

Starting on May 17th, BoltBus will take people between Portland and Seattle for as little as $1. The great news is that according a company representative, your bike can come along at no extra charge.

BoltBus is a division of Greyhound (in a 50/50 partnership with Peter Pan Bus Lines) already operates several lines on the East Coast, made the announcement of Seattle and Portland service in a press release today. This is the company’s first route on the West Coast.

In Seattle, BoltBus will operate from 5th Avenue South and King Street, which is adjacent to the International District Station. In Portland, BoltBus will operate from 647 SW Salmon Street.

Each rider is allowed one piece of baggage to stow under the bus and two small carry-on bags. The BoltBus FAQ says bikes are allowed “as long as space is available in the baggage area.” Here’s more:

Can I take a bicycle or golf bag?

We do allow them and consider them to be oversize items as long as space is available in the baggage area. The oversize item will count as your one bag allowed under the coach. You’ll be responsible for placing the item in the baggage bin. We will not charge you an additional fee for oversized item provided it is within your limit of one bag under the coach. BOLTBUS is not responsible for damage to oversize items or items that are not placed in normal luggage or a carrying case.

$1 ticket!

When I called to confirm with a BoltBus rep today, she said the bike would simply be considered your one piece of large luggage. No boxing up is necessary. You just roll your bike under the bus. Adult, standard sized bikes are commonly taken on their East Coast routes, the rep said.

As for fares, I just reserved a ticket to go to Seattle on May 19th and it cost me $1 (plus a $1 transaction fee). I’m not clear how their fare system works; but apparently if you book early enough, you can get a $1 ticket. Otherwise, a cursory bit of research showed fares are around $7-10. Either way, this is a great new option for Portland-Seattle travel! Check out BoltBus.com for more info.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Scott April 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I rode Bolt for the last year I was on the east coast. They had outlets and wifi on the bus. That was rad.

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  • Ethan April 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    Still no solution for cargo bikes. Come on AMTRAK, get with the program!

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    • kipchoge May 1, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Hey Ethan, is that your experience? On more than 20 occasions I have successfully taken up to 8 Xtracycles and Yubas at a time on both Amtrak (boxed) and buses with underneath storage (unboxed). I do agree that Amtrak should get with the program and allow unboxed cargo bikes, as should Greyhound.

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      • 9watts May 1, 2012 at 8:19 am

        Any such experiences to relate on the Green Tortoise?
        Hey, kipchoge, good to hear you’re still around.

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  • Allison (@allisons) April 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    We’ve spent a pretty penny on Amtrak the last few years. Now we’re moving home and we wont’ need to do this particular trip nearly as often anymore. So I’m kind of peeved 😀

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  • Scott April 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    my mamma always said if it sounds too good to be true, it is….

    I don’t get it. What’s the catch? What is the schedule?

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  • Chris I April 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Companies like Bolt Bus do not compete fairly. They do not operate from terminals or even dedicated bus stops. They do not pay taxes for the space that they occupy while picking up/dropping off passengers or while on layovers. In some cities, the buses will routinely block bike lanes or other infrastructure:

    I would be fully behind companies like this if they had designated pickup spaces that they paid taxes on. Anything that reduces auto-dependency is great, but these buses do not compete fairly.

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    • oskarbaanks April 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      But Chris, that’s the ‘eMrican Way! Hell, they just could pull in off the bike lane and just drop my happy butt off in the Wally Mart parkin’ lot! Fer a buck, Id ride that non-union scab wagon ta Montreeal! Yup!

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      • joel April 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm

        seems boltbus buses are driven by union greyhound drivers, so theyre not circumventing that – but i dont care how cheap the fare is, i wont be encouraging curbside bus service with my $, for exactly the reasons Chris I brings up.

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        • oskarbaanks April 30, 2012 at 9:53 pm

          I was jesting, and not really trying to make a factual political statement so much.
          My point is that people are going to embrace these types of option’s if the value aspect is appealing. And I find the comments here regarding passenger loading, toilet’s and other amenities to be quite silly.
          The tone rings of alot of NIMBY to me. Let’s face it, the economy is in the toilet and there are thousands of peeps that will take advantage of this.
          If you are a Bistro owner and cant deal with the idling bus out front, I am sure you will be able to leverage the city to make this inconvenience move somewhere else.

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          • Joe Suburban May 3, 2012 at 10:14 pm

            A little perspective here: in Eastern Europe, little 15 passenger Mercedes buses go from Ukraine to Spain, loaded with girls for strip clubs one way and tough dudes with “lifted merchandise” the other way. And they stop wherever they want and pay no taxes except bribery at border posts.

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      • JMD May 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm

        Actuall, the Boltbus drivers are union employees.

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    • CarlB April 30, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      Who are they unfairly competing against? Greyhound? They’re owned by Greyhound.

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      • Chris I April 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm

        Amtrak and any other private bus company that want to play by the rules. Bolt Bus will be a great addition to the city’s transportation options, provided the city regulates them properly. Don’t allow idling in the city, require them to either serve the Greyhound bus depot or permanently lease street parking at market rates to establish a curbside bus stop.

        I think this service is needed. Greyhound and Amtrak do not offer a “Seattle Express”, so I think this service will do well. It may even motivate WSDOT and ODOT to add Amtrak Cascades Express trains and offer more competitive fares.

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        • black dude on bicycle April 30, 2012 at 8:29 pm

          Actually they do in both directions.

          And they also offer a Eugene to Portland express.

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        • CPJC May 1, 2012 at 9:44 am

          By the rules? Yes, I’m sure CAR2GO and ZIPCAR pay the city the same fees the general public pays for parking spaces.

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          • Chris I May 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm

            It looks like they will be using a “bus parking” zone that the city designated at that location, cost-free. So it will be within the rules, but I think the rules need to change.

            Car2Go gets a discount, I’m sure; but at least they are paying something.

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          • Greg May 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm

            Do you know how much they pay? I’ve never seen any public numbers.

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            • Chris I May 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm

              “For this privilege car2go pays the City $1,009 per vehicle per year, an amount calculated as the sum of five area parking permits and an estimate of parking meter usage. car2go collects GPS data that will be used to calibrate the meter usage. The permit is up for renewal after six months and can be adjusted.”


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              • JMD May 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm

                A major difference between the 2 is that Boltbus will be bringing people into Portland and Seattle who will be shopping, eating and providing a boost to the local economy with every trip. The same cannot necessarily be said about car2go. Also, Boltbus coaches are not left parked on the curb, they swing in, load up (or drop off) and are on their way. I can’t wait!!

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    • todd boulanger April 30, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      This is true in my experience. When I rode a Bolt Bus in DC/NYC the starting stop had a line of 30 passengers in front of a shop. You could barely see into let alone enter or exit the restaurant / shop with everyone’s bags and crowding. One can assume there would be a need for restroom and other traverllers aid at such stops. This is most important at busy stops, such as the start. There did not seem to be a signed loading zone for private transit at this stop…so this might be another issue to be aware of for city center stops.

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  • naomi April 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    this is amazing! i foresee many trips up to seattle this summer ;d

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  • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
    Michael Andersen (Contributor) April 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Hey, thanks for the hat tip, J. And vive la BoltBus.

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  • Ed April 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    oh my gosh… this is awesome. Bolt bus is great! I used to take them between NYC and Boston. Clean and wifi! The bus driver was really nice about bicycles too.

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  • Kirk April 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    From their FAQs:

    How do I get a $1.00 ticket?
    Every schedule will sell at least one $1.00 ticket. The $1.00 ticket will be sold at random and generally within the first handful of seats sold. The earlier you book your ticket, the greater your odds are of grabbing a seat for a buck.

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  • Brock Dittus April 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    This fills the gap left by the transit bus chain between those two points when the CAP shuttle stopped serving Tumwater/Olympia. Public options still exist but the trip takes somewhere in the order of 8 hours and costs more than this. Mostly good news it seems!

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    • Todd Boulanger May 1, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Sadly the Bolt Bus is not stopping [for now] at major cities along the route – like Vancouver, Olympia or Tacoma. [Vancouver lost its Greyhound service when the City leadership ‘pushed out’ the old depot when the Transit Mall was closed.]

      This is one way the ‘new Greyhound’ manages its costs of operation – shorter travel times but with less public service for using the public highway system…more similar to the airlines model than old Ma Bell. (Imagine a phone system where you could not make calls to rural areas or to a fire station.)

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  • 9watts April 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    I’d be *very* curious to hear someone’s experience actually loading and retrieving their bike into/out of the luggage compartment under the bus. I think it is fantastic that this would be an option, and also that one can load/unload it oneself, but the devil is going to be in the details as far as
    – securing the bike
    – logistics of bags and other bikes being removed, tangled at stops that you are not standing there to watch over your bike.
    – someone else liberating your bike at a stop,
    – twelve bikes in one compartment and you’re getting off in Olympia and you need to extract your bike from the middle of the snarl and the driver’s ready to go.
    – etc.

    This may all have been sorted out in advance, or on another route somewhere, but until I hear that it works well I’m going to remain a bit cautious.

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    • Chris I April 30, 2012 at 9:07 pm

      The service will be nonstop to Seattle, it looks like, so no concerns about the bike being lifted at intermediate stops. Could definitely be a concern at the destination, however.

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    • oskarbaanks April 30, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      9W, you are spot on. I have taken boxed bikes along with numerous other items of value in the cargo hold. You must get out often to keep an eye on your stuff. I have not taken a bus in a decade now, so…
      Scott at the top of the post mentioned using this company, perhaps he may have some insight.

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      • Scott May 1, 2012 at 9:00 am

        Just don’t be a fool and like your bike to the beam in the cargo hold.

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        • Scott May 1, 2012 at 9:01 am


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    • resopmok May 1, 2012 at 4:15 pm

      i think the “stop” issues are negated since it would seem this express bus only stops once – at your destination. if you don’t mind waiting at your destination and can get your bike to the bottom of the pile on departure, you’d probably be fine. my only real worry i suppose would be damage if it is an aluminum or carbon frame.

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  • JJJ May 1, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Theres no catch guys, BoltBus and Megabus offer great service.

    The way fares work is something like this (the exact formula is a secret)
    For every bus departure, tickets are prices in order of purchase

    Last ticket = $25

    So every bus offers every price level, you just need to buy early enough to secure a cheaper seat.

    The buses are clean, have wifi, power outlets (hence the name) and are pretty comfortable.

    I have no relation to either company, Im just a satisfied customer.

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  • the holla May 1, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I haven’t tried BoltBus yet, but I *loved* Megabus when it was running between LA and San Diego, and the service seems very similar. One time I paid $3 and was the only passenger. Hopefully the Portland to Seattle ride will be more successful. I just booked BoltBus tickets for Folklife weekend… thanks Jonathan!

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  • fasterthanme May 1, 2012 at 10:01 am

    If it means not having to deal with grumpy greyhound employees at the terminal in Seattle, I may try it.

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  • Slammy May 1, 2012 at 11:12 am

    yes i am sure the Starbucks, AKA the only business on that block of Salmon, will be bummed about people starting or ending a trip to seattle in front of their store…

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  • Jeremy Cohen May 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I have taken Bolt Bus from DC to NYC (in fact I did it just 2 weeks ago) and back again–the Bolt was $19 each way, but flying from PDX to NYC was about $250 cheaper than DC. The buses were clean, had outlets in every seat for phone charging, had wifi, a bathroom and stopped at an east coast “travel plaza” (rest area with 5-7 crappy fast food restaurants all together). I don’t know about paying for parking spaces but the Bolt on the east coast had permanent bays in Union Station and Penn Station–which I have to assume they pay for. The sketchy “chinatown buses” might be what Chris I was referring to, and those are not as well run as Bolt. My bolt driver even counted passengers at the travel plaza when it was time to go–the chinatown buses are famous for leaving folks behind!

    In addition to the pricing structure, you can buy a ticket in line and if you have a ticket you can go earlier (a standby style “if there is room”) than the time you are scheduled. I was able to book/board with my smartphone (paperless!) and had a great experience. I have certainly given my fair chance to Greyhound, but I find the stations dirty and unsafe, and I have found the buses very dirty and slow.

    This bus is not meant to replace a bus that stops in every little town along the way (Greyhound style) but to offer a quick, clean, direct path from one city to another.

    As for the bike, loading the bike was pretty simple–they open the giant bay doors under the bus and you shove your (bag/bike/whatever) inside. Because the bays are totally open (you could accidentally shove your bag all the way out the other door if it was open) I think a cargo bike would fit just fine. The bus is over 10 feet wide and a long bike would fit well. The “step” up is only not more than a large stair step. That being said, when you arrive at your desitination, it is a free-for-all and I would likely lock my bike to itself to prevent someone from rolling away quickly on it. There was (at least in NYC and DC) a pretty lax attitude about the luggage area–nobody was really looking if you slipped on two bags, or loaded a bike of unusual length–the buses typically have a driver and a second person who boards/collects money–so they don’t have a lot of time to measure your bike. I also found that even with a pretty full bus, most people use this type of bus for quick weekend trips (LOTS of students headed home/back to school) and so the luggage is pretty minimal for most.

    Finally, for those of you that LOVE it, the east coast version offers “ticket packs” that give you a free ticket after 6 or so. I imagine that will happen here as well, especially if it take off.

    I will definitely use this when I want to go to Seattle for a quick trip.

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  • Paul May 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I’ve ridden it maybe twice between Boston and NYC for $15. Yes, it had wifi and was clean, but man were the seats tiny. My camera backpack (not big at all) wouldn’t fit in the small overhead and there was no room under the seat or between my legs so I had to hold it on my lap. Even without my bag on my lap I can’t imagine one would have room for a laptop computer to use the wifi (save for phones & ipads). I’m 6’2″ so seats like that are an absolute nightmare. I bought a $150 return ticket on the Acela for my trip back home to Boston 🙂

    And they do create a huge mess on the sidewalk with everyone unloading luggage and basically blocking everyone else from getting through. It’s a frequent sight in NYC, but I imagine in Portland and Seattle it’s not as much of an issue. We shall see! Other than that, it’s nice to have another choice in addition to infrequent train service.

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  • GlowBoy May 1, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    I may try BoltBus out this summer.

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  • matt w. May 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm


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  • Mike May 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    I grew up using the Chinatown buses from NYC to Boston and back, and have since also used Bolt and Megabus when visiting friends and family (been in Seattle 7 years now). For the rider, these curbside buses are great. Cheap, fast, drop off locations are convenient. Yes, they can be a free-for-all when it’s busy, but that’s what a thriving civilization actually looks like. Also, the history all over the East Coast is as the business grows, they move of the streets and into transit hubs (although, does Seattle have one of those other than the streets in the ID?). My point is, in 1999, Greyhound from NYC to Boston was around $50, took 7 or 8 hours, and ran a couple times a day. Now, there are 5 companies, each of which runs at least a dozen buses a day, all close to full if not packed, for under $30 bucks. They’re good for cities and I’ve been a very happy customer for almost 15 years now.

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  • LuckyChow May 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    I’m not sure what Chris was referring to regarding paying taxes on the space they occupy. No one is making new land, so whoever already owns it is paying the taxes on it. But, by not operating terminals, cost is greatly reduced to the operator and the savings is passed on to the customers. They’re certainly paying fuel taxes to all the states they pass through. This is required by public carrier laws and there is a formula to figure it out and quarterly filings must be made to the governments.

    Regarding the space in the bays, the buses are 102 inches wide, which is the maximum allowed in the US by law. Some coaches have built in bike racks (made just for bus bays), which are produced by SportWorks, the same folks that make the racks on the front. I don’t know if Bolt is using these or not, since I haven’t ridden one. I would doubt it. Greyhound is the major bus operator in the US, and their partner, Peter Pan bus lines, is a great operation and well run. I am glad to see this type of service being implemented.

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    • Chris I May 2, 2012 at 8:15 am

      It’s the same thing as subsidized free street parking for cars. Street space is valuable, and cars and buses that use them need to pay something for that privilege. Greyhound pays property taxes for their bus terminal, their Bolt Bus subsidiary will not be paying the city for the street space they are using on Salmon.

      Again, I think this is a good thing, but I would prefer to see them paying the city something for the space they are using, similar to what Car2Go is doing. $2000 a year for unlimited use of the bus parking space on Salmon is an idea, and the city can put a meter there so any other buses can pay their fair share as well.

      Out of curiosity, what happens if a Bolt Bus goes to pick up passengers at that pickup location, and a private tour bus happens to be parked there? What do they do?

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  • Phil Selinger May 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Amtrak makes only 6 stops on a direct route between Portland and Seattle and it could be a fast ride if the “high speed” Cascadia Corridor investments were made. I would worry that this will undercut the impetus to improve intercity rail service, which is a greener way to go – if the trains were halfway full. Obviously, it should be easy to Amtrak to provide secure and hassle-free bike storage. Competition is supposed to be healthy and maybe this is a wake-up call for Amtrak, but I’d hate to lose the rail-based option.

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  • GlowBoy May 3, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    It’s not Amtrak that needs a wake-up call. They desperately want the Cascadia Corridor upgraded to high-speed, which could shave the Portland-Seattle run down from today’s 3 1/2 hours to less than 2 1/2. It’s the legislature and/or feds (who would have to provide the funds) and the railroads (who own the rails, and would have to agree to the changes).

    Amtrak’s Talgo trains are ready — they’re capable of over 130mph today. But for safety reasons they are limited to 78mph through grade-level crossings, of which there are many on this route — and all of which would have to be eliminated to allow high-speed operation, costing (along with track improvements) hundreds of millions of dollars.

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    • Pete May 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Yes, and it’s my understanding they rent those tracks from freight companies so they are side-tracked to let loaded trains pass on occasion and therefore don’t always run on schedule. I used to take Cascade Express from Albany to Seattle and was told by a frequent rider to take a later train because it often passes an earlier one on the track. I can’t confirm this detail about track ownership, but can tell you my old boss took one out of Vancouver to Montana and learned to drive out to Bingen to pick it up to avoid sidetracking on the Vancouver approach. Tickets were under $50 the few times I rode Amtrak, and there was plenty of storage and wide seats and power (this was in pre-WiFi days, not to carbon-date myself). Oh, and we didn’t have to wait in lines to get X-rayed…

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  • Tim K May 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Hmmm….I see @Paul saying the overhead space is tiny. Anyone else? I’d love to bring a Brompton, but would rather carry it on (like I can with some airlines) than drop it in the cargo hold and hope for the best.

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  • The holla June 6, 2012 at 12:58 am

    I took my bike to and from Seattle a couple of weeks ago on Bolt Bus and had a great experience. My bike was one of six on the Friday afternoon bus, and one of two on Monday morning. The rep stacked four bikes neatly in one storage area, and two in another. I would recommend arriving at least 20 minutes early since they seem to load the bus early, drive around the block a few times (or something), and then return closer to departure. Overall it was a fast, cheap, and convenient ride. I’ll do it over and over again!

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  • The holla June 6, 2012 at 12:58 am

    I took my bike to and from Seattle a couple of weeks ago on Bolt Bus and had a great experience. My bike was one of six on the Friday afternoon bus, and one of two on Monday morning. The rep stacked four bikes neatly in one storage area, and two in another. I would recommend arriving at least 20 minutes early since they seem to load the bus early, drive around the block a few times (or something), and then return closer to departure. Overall it was a fast, cheap, and convenient ride. I’ll do it over and over again!

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