Free Wi-Fi, more leg room, leather seats on Greyhound? Really

Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger

Greyhound Express, a new premium bus service, rolled out Wednesday for routes that link Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and other California cities. The brand that turns 100 next year has tricked out Express buses with free Wi-Fi, power outlets, leather seats, three-point seat belts and extra legroom. Express customers get one more nice perk too: reserved seats.

The service was launched 15 months ago in Chicago, expanded to the Northeast and now has begun in California. Express routes along California 99 and Interstate 5 in California include:

--Los Angeles-Oakland-San Francisco;
--Los Angeles-San Jose-San Francisco; and--Los Angeles-Bakersfield-Fresno-Modesto-Stockton-Sacramento.

Tickets feature tiered pricing, just like airlines. For example, a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco runs from $1 to $40 for advance purchase, $45 for standard web fare, and $57 for walk-up fare, according to Greyhound. (Note: I tested several dates in the next few months and couldn’t find availability for seats that cost less than $45.)

Another innovation: Passengers who make a reservation don’t need a credit or debit card to pay. They receive a confirmation notice and can pay cash at any 7-Eleven or ticket kiosk within 48 hours to get a ticket.

During the rollout Wednesday, Greyhound chief executive Dave Leach welcomed travelers at the downtown Los Angeles Greyhound Station (1716 E. 7th St.) then flew (yes, took a plane) to Sacramento to do the same in the capital.

So why does he think this new service will succeed when Megabus tried tiered-pricing on the same routes a few years back and failed? “First and foremost, we had existing services,” he said in a phone interview. “We had buses, drivers, sales services and a brand that has first-class recognition.” He wants to grow a demographic already familiar with Greyhound and traveling by bus, not try to woo more upscale folks away from their cars or flying.

Among the items on Leach’s wish list: Introducing Express service from L.A.-San Diego and L.A.-Las Vegas (which he says is in the works) and shifting the downtown bus station to L.A. Union Station.

Greyhound on Wednesday also started expanded routes in Texas for service in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.