Fast, reliable, and cheap ground transportation can be so much more pleasant than traveling by plane. There's no taking off shoes at security or waiting on the runway, and with many modern buses fully equipped with power outlets, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning there's no loss in comfort, connectivity, or productivity during the trip.
But searching for bus tickets can be frustrating and often involves wading through each bus company's website to compare prices and schedules. Such frustration is what led to the creation of Wanderu. Still in beta, but on schedule to launch later in July, Wanderu lets users search for cheap ground transportation between two destinations. As travel websites have done for airlines, Wanderu does for buses and trains.
Unlike airplane carriers, which long ago agreed to a common method of organizing data to aid travel agents, the 180-plus bus companies operating in the continental U.S. don't have a unified system. This vacuum has made creating a central search system (like Kayak for hotels or planes) for bus transportation extremely challenging. But one worth tackling. With investment help from the former president and CEO of Greyhound Lines Inc. and the technology know-how of eight engineers, Wanderu now has bus companies asking to be included in the search data base. The service currently is limited to the northeast and will eventually expand to cover the entire country.
Cheapism spoke with Polina Raygorodskaya, one of the three founders, and obtained access to Wanderu prior to its launch. (Cheapism was not paid or compensated in any way.) We found some features we liked, several we loved, and a few that still need improvement.
Our Impression. Wanderu asks users to submit a start and end destination, the number of travelers, and the date of travel, and then provides a list of possible bus or train routes (and sends you to the transit companies' sites for booking). We liked the flexibility of being able to search by locations, such as a residential address or iconic building, and appreciated the best service recommendation based on shortest route or cheapest price. We easily found cheap bus and train tickets and details about the amenities available on each coach. One stand-out feature is a map with directions for how to get to the bus or train station. From personal experience we know that bus companies aren't always clear about their departure/arrival locations.
Filters can be applied to receive results based on price, travel duration, or departure or arrival times. The option to narrow a search to see only buses with Wi-Fi and power outlets seemed particularly helpful; ditto for results limited to companies that are Green Certified or maintain loyalty rewards programs (e.g., Bolt Bus and Amtrak). Because Wanderu integrates information from multiple companies, the site can provide users with routing options and suggest routes that involve more than one company.
Some features of the site didn't impress, although admittedly the version we tested is still in beta mode. Currently you can filter by shortest time and select direct trips, but there is no filter for bus or train; if you order results by price, though, bus routes generally come up on top. Checking availability for multiple passengers isn't an option at this point, but when we spoke with Raygorodskaya she assured us that when launched, users will be able to do so for up to three passengers. And finally, the fields for entering starting and ending locations seem a bit clunky, with auto-fill address suggestions that don't always make sense.
Bottom Line. Wanderu makes finding the cheapest ground transportation much easier for travelers. Plus, it suggests bus lines that travelers would otherwise be unaware of but may offer lower fares than big names like Greyhound or Megabus. Being integrated into company systems also gives Wanderu exclusive access to extra seats on chartered buses that travelers wouldn't ever find on their own. Kinks aside, Wanderu is the start of a solution to an irksome problem of the traveling life.