Inter-city buses in the USA

Greyhound bus in New York City

Long-distance bus travel can be an interesting, inexpensive, and convenient way to see the United States, especially for travellers who, for one reason or another, do not drive their own car.

Buses cover more of the country than trains and have more frequent departures; and unlike air travel, there is not the hassles of security. Although it is not the fastest way, competition between the various operators makes bus travel generally inexpensive. It is even possible to obtain a trip between two cities for as little as $1.

Most intercity bus services use the interstate highway system for the majority of their routes, thereby taking the fastest route they possibly can.

Most long-distance buses are comfortable. Seats are spacious and sometimes have a small flip-down table, like on an airplane. On-board toilets for passengers are also more common than not. Some bus companies show movies on board. Power outlets and Wi-Fi for passengers' use is increasingly the norm. You can also bring food and drink onboard.

Shorter runs, sometimes up to several hours long, may have no intermediate stops. But on longer routes there will be scheduled stops, either in cities where passengers are picked up and offloaded and you can get off the bus for a few moments or at a truck stop where you can get off to eat and drink in a cafe or restaurant. Longer scheduled stops are usually printed on your ticket.

Companies

Greyhound is the country's largest intercity bus operator. It serves most sizable cities in all 48 states of the contiguous United States and also runs to and within neighboring Canada and Mexico. A system map and timetables for all buses can be found here.

In most cities, Greyhound stops are sheltered buildings. Tickets can be purchased at stations, at 7-Eleven stores, over the phone, or online.

Greyhound offers direct service between many pairs of cities. If there are no direct services, transfer between buses can be incorporated into a single ticket. Therefore it is possible to buy a single ticket for travel across the entire country; however, it the journey may require spending several days and nights on several different buses with transfers at odd hours.

Newer buses have slow but usable Wi-Fi, leather seats, and power outlets. Greyhound does not show movies on its buses.

Megabus has a large presence in parts of the Northeast, South, and Midwest. Stops tend to be at street stops rather than bus stations.

Megabus tickets can only be bought online (recommended) or over the phone. Payment can only be made using Mastercard or Visa credit or debit cards. The more in advance the trip is booked, the lower the fare is: one-way fares can be as low as $1.50.

Megabus offers direct connections between many pairs of cities. When a direct service is not available, some combinations of connections can be booked as a single ticket. These approved connections are guaranteed by the company and you won't be stranded if a late first bus causes you to miss an onward connection. Booking multiple separate tickets comes with no such guarantee.

In New York, Megabus uses different drop off and pickup locations but both are fairly close to Penn Station. In Baltimore, New York services use a different stop from that used by all other services. Both are in the suburb of White Marsh.

BoltBus serves the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, and California and Nevada. Like Megabus, you can buy tickets for as low as a dollar if you're lucky.

Nemesis is a large provider in the state of Texas, with regular service between the cities of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Waco, Galveston, and Beaumont. The company is based in Mexico, and also has service between some of these cities and various places in that country, as well as service between different cities in Mexico.

Unlike many other intercity bus companies, Nemesis is not limited to a single stop. Nemesis has a starting/ending point on each route which is its primary stop. There are also often other scheduled stops in suburbs, frequently in locations easily accessible off the interstates. Once the destination city has been reached Nemesis is willing to drop off passengers anywhere it is safe. With advance notice, Nemesis is willing to pick up at certain key locations, such as hotels, college campuses, and other major landmarks.

Jefferson Lines serves the American Heartland, from the Rockies to the Mississippi River and from the Canadian to the Mexican borders.

Trailways is a franchise group of companies with bases across the country. Its services may focus more on intra- rather than inter-regional travel.

In cities with large Chinese communities, there are often small family-owned companies based in the respective Chinatowns with services to the Chinatowns in nearby cities. These bus companies are often referred to as the Chinatown Bus Companies, and where available, are usually the cheapest bus services available between cities.

Tickets

Tickets can often be purchased online, some convenience stores can also sell tickets. Buying at a bus station is also usually an option but this may not be possible in some small towns. For example Rolla, Missouri's bus station is just a donut shop.

Station amenities

Inside a Greyhound Lines station in Nashville, Tennessee

Layovers are a part of longer bus journeys. Some last only 10 minutes, but they can be several hours long. If you have the energy, longer layovers can be used to explore the city.

Amenities vary between stations. Greyhound stations offer free Wi-Fi and have TVs. Some have little more than a few vending machines. Others may have a snack bar and a small store, which will have prices that make a convenience store look like Wal-Mart! Not all stations are open 24 hours (especially in small towns). In general, the bigger the city the nicer the station. An exception to this is Topeka: for some reason, the bus station is a BP.

Although there are lockers in Chicago, most stations do not have them. Unattended bags are more likely to be confiscated by security than to be stolen. Try to separate your valuables into a smaller bag you can always keep with you.

Occasionally drivers will point out a convenience store or fast food restaurant near the bus station. This happened in Toledo. At the Dayton-Trotwood station, the drivers have said not to go into the Speedway gas station (it's right next to the bus stop). If you don't dilly dally you can make it back in plenty of time (even if the break doesn't go longer than scheduled). Sadly, it is not open 24 hours.

Most of the time, drivers will not mention anything about nearby amenities but they will announce that the bus is near the stop and how long it is expected to be stopped for. If you look up where your stops are before the journey, you might be able to find better and cheaper food/drink/entertainment somewhere near the station. If you don't, still keep your eyes peeled for gas stations and restaurants near the bus station.

If you choose to spend your layover sampling nearby bars - some can be close to the station, for example Columbus, Ohio, has several restaurants with bars that are within 2 blocks of the bus station - do not get drunk as you will not be allowed on the bus.

Rules

Generally, the few rules imposed on bus travelers are very basic and largely common sense. Smoking is always forbidden. Some buses have signs banning eating and drinking, but this is rarely enforced; if you do eat or drink try to clean up after yourself. Try to keep noise to a minimum - no-one wants to hear other people's conversations, no matter how fascinating you think they are. Unlike air travel, security checks are rare, but there are occasional 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.

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