Five ways to make bus travel bearable

I’ve been spending a lot of time on buses lately – and not the kind that trace an east-west route across Manhattan. For the trips I’ve been taking, it’s been the best way to go, but rolling by bus is still far from exciting. From having to smoke outside with the homeless people in front of Port Authority to being stuck next to or in front of a loud cell phone talker, it’s hard to find a less appealing way to travel. Some bus lines are better than others, and I’ve been fairly impressed by the one I’m taking these days. Nonetheless, it’s still a drag.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make your bus ride much easier.

There are obvious tactics, from music to reading materials, but anyone who travels (or has merely waited in a long line somewhere) can figure them out. Instead of the basics, which you should be able to figure out on your own, let’s take a look at five tricks that only come from painful experience.1. Get in line (or on the bus) early
This may seem obvious, but the reasons come with some subtlety. You want to claim your space as soon as possible. Wait too long, and you could wind up having to set next to someone who is already on board. Step onto the bus early, and you’ll be putting someone else in that position. The odds of having your own seat for the ride increase profoundly.

2. Look undesirable
As people get on, especially when there are no empty pairs left, they have to make some tough choices on where to sit. Your goal is to make them pass you without even considering an invasion of your personal space. Eat some smelly food, wear torn or dirty clothing or cough and sneeze. This will help you win the opportunity to stretch out later.

3. Spread out
If there are multiple stops before your destination, more passengers may get on. This only happens when you’re headed toward the “big place,” though. When I leave New York, for example, I don’t worry about losing space to passengers who get on later – the net flow is outward. Yet, when I’m headed back home, it’s hard to rest easy until we’ve left the last stop before the city. To further discourage people from sitting next to me, which is harder than in (2) above, I tend to spread out a bit, pluck away at my laptop and generally make it look time-consuming and annoying to clear space for another passenger. Nobody wants to wait in the aisle, especially for someone who is not really interested in helping.

4. Enlist your friends
While you don’t want to be among the degenerates who talk on the phone during the entire bus trip, you will need to be entertained. Texts, communication via BlackBerry Messenger and even traditional email will amuse you without annoying those around you. Make sure you have a few people on board to help you out, case someone gets bored or busy … or just doesn’t care about your plight.

5. Engage the world
I think the number of tweets I send while riding the bus skyrockets relative to my already elevated volume. If you aren’t a Twitter addict already, become one if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on a bus. It’s quiet, and it will keep you busy. Follow the right people, and it will also keep you laughing. To start, may I suggest @Gadling?

[tweetphoto via @tjohansmeyer]

Breaking: NY port authority realizes what we all know – LaGuardia airport is a dump

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has come to the conclusion that LaGuardia airport is “outdated”.

And who wouldn’t agree with them? Twenty years ago, LGA was probably considered a timeless relic, but nowadays the place is a disgrace, albeit a disgrace with a pretty decent location if you need to go to Manhattan.

As a major gateway into New York City, the place is about as welcoming as a punch in the stomach, which is why the port authority says the best solution is to completely rebuild the airport.

Of course, like any airport operator, cash for the rebuild is nowhere to be found (even though 26 million passengers pay a $4.50 facility fee when they use the airport). Several options are being evaluated, including a privatization and an airline financed reconstruction.

As an airline passenger, I don’t really care how they fix LaGuardia, as long as it involves ripping the whole place down and removing any remnants of this horrible airport.

The Port Authority hot dog


I don’t think anybody enters a bus station looking for an unforgettable culinary experience – at least not a good one. But, when you’re in transit, you need to eat, especially if you’re staring down several hours on what is quite possibly the most unpleasant form of transportation. So, before dashing down to see the in-laws on Christmas Eve, I stopped at Villa Pizza, in the southern part of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, to grab a bite. I saw hot dogs wrapped in pizza dough and knew my problem had been solved.

I didn’t have high hopes for the dog – c’mon, I picked it up at a bus station. And, because there was dough instead of a traditional bun, I realized I’d have to eat it sans ketchup and mustard. As I rode the escalator down to my gate, I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake. I was about to chomp into a nude Port Authority hotdog. There were no condiments behind which to hide. I’m committed to my unique brand of hot dog blogging, though, so I had no choice but to follow through.Once I got settled into my seat at the back of the bus, I finally took a look at my meal. The hot dog from Villa Pizza was thicker than most, and it was still hot (lukewarm dogs suck).

The hot dog lacked the snap characteristic of the fare of New York’s better hot dog shops (such as Gray’s Papaya), but it was decent on flavor. Like most dishes in a pizza place, it was a tad too greasy, but I was able to live with that. The pizza dough in which the dog was shrouded added a dimension – a texture not normally found in a hot dog experience.

I wouldn’t rush back to Villa Pizza for a hot dog. In all fairness, it isn’t the joint’s focus, and there are many dogs in the city that are far superior. When you have a bus to catch, though, your range of choices shrinks drastically, and you could do worse than to pick up a dog from Villa Pizza.

Greyhound customer service delivers after bus heads wrong way for more than 70 miles

When the five people who ranged from an R& B singer moving to NYC to seek her fortune– to a young man trying to get to Hartford, Connecticut and his sick grandmother as quickly as possible, sidled up to the Greyhound ticket counter in Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan, they weren’t itching for a fight. What they wanted was some compensation for their Greyhound induced travel woes.

See, the bus they had taken from Cleveland had arrived two hours late. It’s not unusual for a bus to be late. Traffic, weather and a bus breakdown can occur. Their bus’s lateness was due to driver error. The driver, after a scheduled rest stop, had headed the bus back towards Cleveland for more than 70 miles.

What made this snafu feel worse is that they would have arrived earlier than the scheduled arrival time if it wasn’t for the driver’s mistake. If you’ve ever been on a road trip that has been lengthened by the wrong way, perhaps you’ll recall that jumpy nervous twitch that ensues–the kind of feeling where any moment you could LOSE YOUR MIND.

As written in the previous post, Gadling knows these details because Gadling was there. Here’s the rest of the story. What happens when a passenger does complain? Airlines take notice.

First, as these five people found out from the helpful ticket agent, the place to head to file a complaint is the Greyhound customer service office near the ticket office in Port Authority.

In this non-descriptive office without so much as a plant to pep up the ambiance, was one lone man. Let’s call him John. John, who looked up from his desk several feet from the counter where he was typing at a computer, pleasantly informed this band of travelers who had vowed to complain together while still en-route that the person in charge–let’s call her Rachel, had stepped out for a moment but would be right back.

Indeed, John was not fibbing. Rachel appeared in minutes. Yours truly, this Gadling blogger, taking on the initial spokesperson role, explained our situation to Rachel who lent a sympathetic, concerned ear, looked us directly in the eyes, and passed out complaint forms. As she explained, she’d have to get back to us about any monetary compensation after she reviewed the story. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe us, but there’s protocol.

This is what she was able to do in the meantime:

Hurry off with one of the passengers to help him make an immediate connection to another bus. As they hustled out of the office, she asked the rest of us to please wait since she could offer him help right away.

When Rachel returned, she offered to store the R&B woman’s luggage for free until the woman could get friends of hers to come and help her carry it to her new apartment. They had been at the bus terminal earlier but had to leave to go to work.

As for the man trying to get to Hartford, I’m not sure what Rachel was able to do for him since we left before his problems were resolved. Hopefully, he was able to take the train, something he was vying for.

There was one young woman who started to leave the office in a huff once she heard there was not to be immediate compensation and she’d most likely be stuck for a couple more hours in Port Authority before a connecting bus could get her to her final destination. I cajoled her to fill out the form, explaining that she deserves some compensation for her inconvenience and that she’d most likely get something. She agreed to stay and picked up the pen.

With complaint forms filled out, off my daughter and I went to enjoy our Halloween weekend in Manhattan.

Within eight days, we each received a wonderful letter from Greyhound customer service with a $40 ticket voucher that can be used within a year. (That’s $40 a piece.)

As the letter says, “We want to apologize for the recent inconvenience you experienced while using our service. At Greyhound, we strive to make every trip fast, affordable and convenient…Again, we value your business and thank you for your service. We look forward to seeing you on the road.”

Rachel personally signed the letter.

Is this Greyhound bus rider satisfied? You bet. I’m hopping on a Greyhound with my son in December. With a 21-day advanced purchase and my voucher, the trip for the two of us will only be $172. That’s what I call affordable. And unless the driver heads the wrong way, it won’t take much longer than driving to Manhattan ourselves.

As for my daughter, I may send her to Pittsburgh on a solo trip to visit her cousin who’s going to college there–something I wouldn’t have thought to do otherwise.

Greyhound’s actions made sure we’d keep coming back. It seems to me, that makes good business sense. It doesn’t take a lot to make customers satisfied. Really.

Greyhound bus driver heads wrong way: Where’s a GPS when you need one?

Greyhound bus drivers generally don’t make national news. Pilots who overshoot airports, however, end up having their story told over and over again on about every entertainment vehicle there is. How many places did you hear or read about the Northwest Airlines pilots who missed Minneapolis and didn’t figure out their mistake for 150 miles?

Now, how many of you heard about the Greyhound bus driver who headed the wrong way for more than an hour last week? Yep, last Saturday morning at about 7:14 a.m on October 31st, that’s exactly what happened–a bus driver went the wrong way for more than 70 miles.

Here’s an exclusive Gadling report that has yet to show up anywhere. Gadling knows because Gadling was there.

What started out to be a slam dunk from Cleveland’s bus station to Port Authority in Manhattan turned into a Twilight zone episode. For the band of riders who were heading to New York for a variety of reasons–like the R&B singer who was moving from Michigan to Manhattan to try to make a living, and the young man moving back to Hartford, Connecticut from Cincinnati, the bus was the cheapest travel option.

For this mother and her daughter, it was certainly the cheapest way for a last minute trip to NYC for a Halloween weekend that doubled as a 17th birthday present.

Each of us were initially thrilled to be on the spillover bus out of Cleveland. When there are too many passengers for one bus, another driver is called for a second bus. Riding on the second bus generally means more room.

When the second bus pulled out of the Cleveland terminal at 2:30 a.m. or so, the passengers, mostly with two seats to themselves, settled in for slumber. The bus’ interior lights were off creating an aura of cozy humanity as the bus headed to I-80 east for the trip straight to Manhattan. With the stop in Newark dropped because no one on the bus was going to Newark, this meant arriving ahead of the 11:15 a.m. schedule. Sweet!

At 6:55 a.m., the bus pulled into a truck stop near Milesburg, Pennsylvania. Most everyone got off in search of coffee and a toilet that didn’t move from side to side. Some huddled together for a quick smoke.

By 7:15 everyone was back on the bus, settling in for more shut eye as the sun began to rise. At 8:30 the dream come true ride ended.

The driver’s “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! I don’t believe this. We were almost there,” paired with her frustrated laughter–the kind of laughter one uses when there’s no other possible response because crying would be just too awful, woke up this Gadling rider. From the vantage point of three rows back from the driver on the right side of the bus, it was clear the driver was talking to herself.

Peering out the window looking to see what was up, the first thought was traffic caused by an accident. Nope. That wasn’t it. The highway was clear.

When the bus pulled off the highway, making a jog along a side road, the thought was another rest stop already?

Nope. That wasn’t it either. The driver swung the bus back onto the highway.

When an I-80 east sign appeared, so did a sinking feeling–and an urge to start moaning, “No, no, no!”

When the “Bellfonte 65 miles” (or so) sign appeared, it was clear what had happened. At Milesburg, the driver headed off on I-80 west instead of going east, thus driving back towards Cleveland. We had driven miles in the wrong direction past the State College turn off in the center of Pennsylvania where we had been before.

Unfortunately, it took the driver over an hour to figure out that she was heading away the wrong way.

We would not be arriving in New York City before 11:15. That’s when we’d be hitting the Poconos just in time for Saturday afternoon traffic.

The R&B singer’s friends who were at Port Authority to meet the bus called her wondering where she was after the first bus showed up on time. They told her that they had to go to work and would not be able to help her with her luggage after all.

By the time the bus pulled into Port Authority at 1:30, more than two hours behind schedule, five people felt steamed up enough to head to Greyhound customer service to complain. That meant filling out paperwork describing the event and leaving contact information.

For Gadling, the mistake meant two less hours in Manhattan. For others, it meant missed connections that ended up costing money and a travel headache they hadn’t counted on. The R&B singer had Greyhound comp her the price to store her luggage until she figured out how to get it to her new digs. When we left the customer service counter, the young guy was still trying to figure out how to get to Hartford and contact the people who were to meet him there. He was hoping Greyhound would put him on the train.

Greyhound customer service is going to let us know if they’ll be any ticket compensation once the incident is investigated. A voucher for future travel on Greyhound would be nice. You never know what kind of adventure you’re going to have when a bus pulls out of a station. I’m thinking about taking my son to Manhattan the middle of December to take in the holiday lights.

As for the ride back, the bus pulled into the Columbus, Ohio bus station right on time–7 a.m. on Monday morning.

%Gallery-65766%

Follow us on Twitter!

Be our fan on Facebook!

%Gallery-76818%