Monday, December 20, 2010

review of the bolt bus to boston

why i love the bolt bus from nyc to boston (er... okay, love is a strong word ... swap out "love" for "occasionally tolerate"):

1. it's cheap

2. it does not involve radiation and naked 3D photographs or groping by questionable security officials

3. (some of) the seats have electrical outlets and the bus promises free wi-fi

4. at least one driver begins the voyage by asking if anyone knows the way to boston.  enjoyed him.

how the bolt bus could improve:

1. make good on that wi-fi promise (i.e., yes, technically it exists ... but if it is not possible for people to use it because there is not enough of it to go around (resulting in no one using any of it), i don't think that really counts).

2. signs.  they need more signs.  for example, a sign on the inside of the bathroom door to inform well-intentioned passengers that the floor is not the appropriate disposal receptacle for their chewing gum.  and a sign requesting that passengers treat tuna fish like the dirty little secret it is - as something to be shamefully consumed in private ... not devoured in confined public spaces, where its nasty odor can waft over into the nostrils of the innocents.  or how about a sign on 34th street that clearly distinguishes the philly bus from the boston bus?

what happens now: during the 30-60 minutes before a bus arrives, passengers begin arriving on the street corner.  they walk around confused, happening upon a line that someone has started somewhere (the line has not been started by an employee of the bolt bus - if they are even around, they will tell you that the spontaneously formed single file of passengers "is not a line because the bus is not even here yet").  the newcomers might ask around to find out if they are in the right place: "is this for boston?" "are you going to boston at" (fill in a time)?  they derive a modicum of comfort from discovering that others intend to board the same bus they do or they walk around looking for something else vaguely resembling a line.  or maybe they are confused because the bus everyone else intends to board should have left 15 minutes previously. but no one is really sure of anything.  if an employee happens to be around, some passengers might ask him/her for information, only to discover s/he doesn't really have any.  then on their way back to their place in the single file of strangers, others will ask them what they found out.  the strangers then play telephone with the message that no one knows anything.
eventually a bus pulls up to a curb.  either the uninformed employee who happened to be there with the masses or an employee who has materialized out of nowhere softly makes the announcement of a destination and a time.  the masses who do not intend to go to this destination play telephone with the announcement, passing it along down the line that is not really a line.  the people who intend to board the bus suddenly make a mad dash to throw their bags in the luggage compartment and mob the entrance to the bus (and then we learn why the line was not a line ... yet it seems to form itself again and again before each bus arrives, even though the only purpose i could see it serving would be to keep the masses from rioting in disputes regarding who had arrived first (before, of course, they realize such distinctions are futile).   then the employee recites the first few letters of the alphabet ("a! anyone for a?"), pausing while harried travelers shove through the crowd toward the door of the bus.  some flash pieces of paper in front of his/her face, while others hold up their handheld electronic devices.  sometimes the employee looks at what they are showing him/her as they file past and finally board the bus.  other times, the employee is distracted by a compelling discussion with his/her coworker. eventually, by some dark magic, everyone ends up on the bus, seated with their carry-ons stowed.

3.  related to #2, some system of keeping employees abreast of which bus is which ... or some expectation that they communicate their knowledge to their customers

4. heat.  no, i don't mean on the bus (though it was a little on the chilly side for me).  i mean a heated waiting area.  it is cold when you are standing still on the streets of nyc in mid-december waiting for a bus that no one is sure will really arrive until it actually does.  in fairness, the outdoor "terminal" situation is probably not really bolt's fault.  bolt has its own terminals at the station in boston (and boarding there is quite organized).  maybe space is at such a premium in nyc they have been unable to secure ideal space.  or maybe they do enough business they don't care about securing something resembling a terminal in nyc.  i don't know.  i just know it is cold waiting for that bus.

5. in the summer, functional air conditioning for the entire bus (not just the first half of the bus).

6. functional seats.  yes, i understand that maybe you want to advertise that (some of) your buses have leather seats because maybe this is a major selling point for many (first-time/uninitiated?) customers.  but to those who equate leather with comfortable, let me explain something.  the seats are about 2" thick (warning: that might be a slight exaggeration - maybe it is closer to 4 or 5 inches? i'll have to pay closer attention if we need to use the bus again ... but they are thin).  and the actual seat part (you know, the butt cushion) falls considerably short of at least 2 of the passengers' knee pits.  as in, constant effort is required to prevent oneself from falling out of the seat.  to their credit, i think perhaps the bolt bus engineers must have known this could be a problem.  they installed foot rests beneath the seats so that passengers in each successive row could brace themselves.  (unfortunately, the first row lacks a bracing apparatus ... but passengers riding in this row have seat belts so that they can strap themselves in to prevent themselves from falling out of their seats).

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