The Rebirth of Buses: N.Y. to D.C. for $1

"There are a few briefcase carrying business travelers onboard, and we still don't see a lot of families," Schwieterman said. "It tends to be younger people and leisure travelers coming to the big city."

The BoltBus Crowd

My fellow passengers were mostly those who decided to make the trip simply because the fare was so low.

Andrea Nazarian, from Gaithersburg, Md., and her two sons and mother decided to spend a night in New York. Their plan: visit the Museum of Modern Art, one of the few sites they have not seen in New York. (By the way, admission to the museum is $20, making the bus ride really seem like a bargain.)

So why did the family decide to take the trip?

"Because it was a dollar," Nazarian said, adding that it cost her more to take the subway to the bus stop.

In the past, the family has driven, flown and taken the train. This was its first time taking the bus.

Did they think there was a stigma to taking a bus?

"I don't think so anymore," Nazarian said. "Especially with the price of gas, who cares?"

Doris Henry and her daughter, Neisha, were doing a day trip to New York.

"I saw $1 and I couldn't believe it," Henry said. "So I'm taking a day to spend some quality time with my daughter."

"You can't compare it to driving. Considering gas and tolls, it's quite a bargain," she added. "I love Amtrak, but it's expensive."

Smart Marketing

BoltBus is just the latest transportation company to lure passengers in with the promise of ridiculously low prices. The idea is to catch somebody's attention who might have never thought about making the trip.

Last year, Skybus Airlines launched service with at least one seat on each of its flights for $10. And just this week, Spirit Airlines was running another ridiculously low-priced promotion, offering some seats for a penny.

BoltBus even boards by groups -- A, B, C, -- a system pioneered by discounter Southwest Airlines.

Two years ago, Coach USA launched a discount bus line called Megabus, which offered intercity travel for as low as $1. It started with service from Chicago to other Midwest cities such as Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cleveland. In August, the company added bus routes out of Los Angeles to other California cities and to Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Now Megabus plans to go head-to-head with BoltBus on the East Coast. BoltBus plans to start service between New York and Boston sometime in April, and its Web site also mentions planned service to Philadelphia.

Megabus plans to serve all those cities plus Baltimore, Buffalo, N.Y., and Toronto.

These lines have to compete with so-called Chinatown buses: low-fare bus lines like Fung Wah and Lucky Star that operate between the two cities' Chinese neighborhoods, as well as other new upstarts, including DC2NY, Vamoose and Washington DeLuxe.

Also trying to get a piece of the action is LimoLiner, which casts itself as an upscale bus with leather seats, a private rear cabin for up to 10 people to hold meetings, complimentary snacks and drinks, satellite TV with news channels and fresh flowers in the bathroom, the bus line's "signature touch."

LimoLiner, however, charges a hefty $89 one way between New York and Boston.

For $1, BoltBus wasn't quite as lavish.

But BoltBus and other bus companies are trying to shed the image held by many Americans of buses being rundown and uncomfortable.

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