I'm writing this month's column heading back to DC from NYC on an X3-45, with my laptop plugged into the seat back in front of me, WiFi enabled (free) and full cellular service at no extra charge. The few folks actually talking on cell phones are keeping their voices down though, which everyone appreciates. The airline seats are comfortable and the cabin is only about half full, so I've got a row to myself. Even if the seat ahead of me were reclined, there is still room for my 6'2" frame and extra long legs. Life is good. Calvin, our pilot, took off from NYC a few minutes late, I admit, but then rush hour traffic is tough in Manhattan.
Because, you see, the X3-45 is a bus.
Specifically, it's a Canadian built Prevost X3-45 with a Detroit diesel that has an advanced particulate recovery system in it and which is being operated by Greyhound for its new "BOLTBUS" service in the Northeast. Think "TED". It's a United Airline's economy carrier service, on wheels. Except that I've never taken a bus this nice before.
How is bus travel more futuristic than jet planes or high speed trains? Well, assuming you caught the perks in the lead paragraph, let's see what else we've got.
- No downtown jetports – Flying into the center of a city has been a commuter dream since there was flying. The Hindenburg was supposed to dock at the Empire State Building, but winds made it unfeasible. Though it was not the first time a plane had hit a skyscraper, 9/11 pretty much closed the book on downtown airports. Heliports maybe. Train stations have been an urban staple for over a century, it's true, but they show it. It annoys me that when I go to Grand Central to catch a train up or down the coast I have to stand in a queue waiting to be told what platform to rush to at the last minute.
- If Jets are so fast, why aren't we there yet? – Between driving out to the airport, going through security lines (possibly several times), and getting transportation to the destination city on the other end, you should tack four or five hours onto you total trip time to fly anywhere. The trip from DC to NYC or back is about four hours total. City to city. With uptown and downtown drops. And when in the big apple BoltBus drivers are allowed to let passengers off along the way. Heck, they have to stop every few hundred feet anyway.
- Don't be fuelish – OK, I don't know the fuel costs of trains or planes offhand, but I know planes at least aren't pretty. The X3-45 according to my back of the envelope calculations, gets about 8mpg. Which means that with only four passengers, it's neck and neck with the Subaru Legacy that just passed us with only a driver. Full up, which is about 50 people, that's roughly 400 miles/gallon.
- How Much For Just The Seat? – BoltBus let's you buy tickets months in advance, just like planes and trains…but it rewards you for doing so by selling them insanely cheaply. How insane? The first seat sold is a buck. Pretty quickly it goes up to about 5 bucks….and it tops out at a pleasant $20 online or $25 on the bus. No wonder your Jet's Blue.
The busses have GPS and Black Boxes built into them, like any respectable advanced mode of travel, but you can't watch your progress on the back of the seat in front of you, like on a big jet, or even a NYC cab. I don't mind, since I've got a GPS enabled smartphone, like any self respecting futurist, so I can track my progress in real time. Usually. Anyway, like most things in the Future Present, it's not perfect. Sometimes my Blackberry can't find its data network. I don't recall that ever happening to a character in a Golden Age SF Novel. In SF movies in fact I think we had to wait for Han Solo to smack the side of his nav unit before making a star jump to get anyone to admit that tomorrow was going to be like today, only in the future.
Along the way on this trip I've taken a number of mass transit modes, from the DC Metro to the Bolt, and it's been comfortable and economical. It's no trick for the exciting world of tomorrow to be the first, but rarely has anyone ever showed how it could be made affordable for everyone, or how individuals could share resources responsibly.
Public transit of today isn't nearly as available as it should be, but operations like the BoltBus show that we don't need (or especially want) government to provide them if private industry can do a better job cheaper. The role of government, IMHO, is to take on the tough jobs, like building highways and spaceports, and leave the driving to us.