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Websites are trying to make finding routes and fares for buses and trains as easy as searching for a flight. (Steven Salerno/The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH STORY SLUGGED BUS TRAIN SEARCHES ADV27. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. -- PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE OCT. 27, 2013. ORG XMIT: XNYT61

Steven Salerno • New York Times,

Looking for a bus or train fare? The Web can help

  • Article by: STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM New York Times
  • October 26, 2013 - 4:52 PM

If you want to search a single website for fares across multiple airlines, there are plenty of options — Priceline, Orbitz, Expedia — that allow you to do just that. But the same cannot be said if you’re planning to travel long distance by bus or train. Typically you have to know the name of the company you plan to use and make a reservation through its website.

Now, however, a handful of Internet start-ups are trying to make searching for bus and train routes and fares as easy as searching for flight information. The sites are emerging as more people are traveling by bus and train. Intercity bus service grew by 7.5 percent between the end of 2011 and 2012, the highest rate of growth in four years, according to a report from the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.

And service by discount operators like BoltBus and Megabus in the United States jumped 30.6 percent year over year. (That outpaces the growth reported by airlines and car travel, the Chaddick Institute report said.) Train travel has also grown, and it’s likely to become more popular given that the Department of Transportation, as part of the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program that President Obama announced in 2009, is developing high-speed and intercity passenger rail corridors for 150- to 220-mph trains.

Wanderu, a minimalist website introduced this month, enables travelers to search for bus and train trips in the Northeast across multiple companies. The site does not directly sell tickets, but it provides a link that allows you to book your trip with your chosen company. If the operator’s website is not mobile-friendly or does not have an intuitive checkout system, Wanderu provides a reservation form for you to fill out and sends it to the operator on your behalf.

A recent search for a bus to Washington, D.C., from New York City pulled up dozens of trips — including departure time, price and duration — on lines like BoltBus, Megabus and DC2NY. Filters narrow search results to a particular operator as well as to buses that have Wi-Fi, power outlets, extra leg room, free water, loyalty rewards and “green certified” designations indicating that they were evaluated by the Certification for Sustainable Transportation at the University of Vermont (more information is available at Erating.org).

Wanderu is easy to use, and at the moment it has partnerships with more than a dozen bus and train companies, which Wanderu said means that it covers roughly 80 percent of the East Coast market. The site’s chief executive, Polina Raygorodskaya, said Wanderu was planning to expand to the Southeast next month and to the Midwest by the end of the year.

My search for a trip to Washington pulled up a number of bus options, though no trains. It turns out that Wanderu is reworking its Amtrak integration to make it faster, so while some trips turn up Amtrak options, Raygorodskaya said, the site’s full Amtrak integration should be back on track in a few weeks. On Bustripping, another new intercity bus search engine, users can search for routes in 163 U.S. cities, four European cities and Vancouver, Canada. There is also an app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The site currently turns up trips among 18 bus companies like Yo! Bus and Go Buses. Bustripping’s chief executive, Ben Silverstein, said in an e-mail that he was in talks with additional operators. The site, which is still building up its partnerships, is currently missing big carriers like Greyhound.

You can filter searches by time, price and operator. Recent searches for trips to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington from New York City each turned up two bus carriers. Each time I went to purchase tickets, Bustripping redirected me to another search site, Gotobus.com, to buy the trip. Silverstein said GotoBus handled the ticketing for many smaller bus lines and that Bustripping showed GotoBus routes on its site.

“In the future we plan to allow our users to purchase tickets for any bus company through our website and mobile app,” Silverstein said.

Navigating these nascent sites is fairly straightforward. How useful they will be to travelers will ultimately depend on how many bus carriers and regions are included as the sites mature. The bottom line? The sites are not yet as comprehensive as flight search engines, but they nonetheless enable you to explore several route options at once — and to discover carriers you might not have been aware of.

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