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High gas prices boost bus travel

After decades of decline, bus travel is on the rise again. But is it right for you?

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By contrast, most larger, modern bus terminals are surprisingly well-ordered. If not exactly pleasant, they are well lit and smell like a hospital hallway.

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Mass transit, with its environmental cachet, would seem to loom large in transportation’s future, says transportation expert Keith Schneider of the Apollo Alliance, a San Francisco-based think tank focused on clean energy and green-collar jobs.

“We’re seeing a shift to a more European model with less emphasis on private car ridership,” Mr. Schneider says. “It’s already happening. And it’s shaping how we design our country and how we move around it.

“Americans are not divided about these issues,” he adds. “In many ways it is hardly a political issue. It is transcendent partisanship.”

In other words: The bus is back.

Secrets of bus-trip success

Preparation is key: Tag your luggage with your destination and contact details. Never leave baggage unattended.

Go online first: The best fares are found there. Greyhound’s specials are only available as e-tickets and can be quite a steal. Megabus offers $1 fares if you book some weeks in advance. (This deal is limited to just a few seats per coach.)

Arrive early: Don’t expect to saunter onto your bus with five minutes to spare. Buses may be overbooked on popular routes, so arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. Be prepared to stand in line.

Bring amenities: For longer distances (multiday or overnight trips), bring a pillow, toothbrush, books, music, earplugs, and other traveling aids with you in the coach. Seats are adequately comfortable and wide, but we all know this can’t help you if your seatmate is 300 pounds and sweating. (If you see such a person approaching, you might try the old “spread out your stuff and look absorbed” ploy.)

Bring food: Rest stops are not famed for their cuisine, and good food can keep you sane on a long-haul trip. Nutrition bars pack well and are filling, and offer a nice alternative to the mac & cheese that’s been sitting under the warming lamps for about a week now.

Go at the rest stops: Anything beats trying to use the toilet on the bus as you swerve around corners on the highway or bounce over potholes in town.

Be punctual: Greyhound drivers in particular are known for keeping to tight schedules. This bodes well for making a connection, but the unwary may find themselves abandoned at a rest stop somewhere in Oklahoma at midnight.

Be patient: Taking the bus can let you soak in roadside vistas, relax, save money, and even experience a little romance of the road, but patience and humility are required. This is the cheapest mode of travel, remember. You may be an hour or two late; you may be told to stand in line for longer than you wish; you may not be able to dodge the large seatmate. Be grateful when you’re on time, and try to stay calm when you’re not. Enjoy the ride.

A few thoughts on bus lines:

1. Greyhound Lines has the best coverage and most experienced drivers, overall, but myriad other services cover similar territory. Shop around.