The age old debate of Bus Vs. Train has always haunted many of us. From a personal experience in childhood, it was probably the 2nd most contested topic for debate during planning a vacation, the first always being what hotel to book. In the case of the hotel it was somewhat straight forward, you need to find the perfect balance between how much you are paying against comfort. We middle class Indians unconsciously became economists, and used the concept of marginal utility to find the perfect hotel for the price. The only exception to this rule has avoiding hotels that accommodated unmarried couple if possible because they might have 'bad influence on the children'. Once that was done and dusted it was time to choose the mode of travel. Train was always the faster option, but if you wanted comfort of AC Bus would always be cheaper. After contemplating without any proper logic for days, we'd just book whatever was more convenient in our given budget. So while it wasn't possible then and even now to say which one is objectively better, we have some important pointers you can consider, before you plan your next vacation.
This is probably the most important factor to consider before you make your choice. Buses can be majorly limited in routes in many destinations, while trains operate everywhere. Especially for very long travel, like travelling from one side of the country to the other, where train journeys can be also long as 36 hours, in such cases choosing a bus would be a very bad idea considering the amount of time you would need to travel even if there is an option. But when it comes to smaller distance Buses perform much better in many aspects. The biggest being most people live comparatively farther from the main Junction railway stations in their city, that is normally the point where you have to travel when you travelling by train. Compared to that the Bus stops are normally in more convenient location in the city, also many buses have multiple small pick-up points from their travel in the city. So in case you live near to any of the points it really does save a lot of time from travelling to a railway station. Most Buses are AC chair at the same price of Sleeper non-AC for train for the same distance, so unless it is a long journey buses again can have an upper hand. Also if you are travelling for business matter, distance wise train might be better for longer commutes.
Price is normally the factor that comes to our minds first, for whenever we are buying or booking something. Let it be booking a hotel in Mumbai which is costly or ordering food from a restaurant or hotel in Kolkata, which is normally much cheaper or even buying vegetables from local mandi. Looking at price tags from human psychology they don't matter as much, as actually getting the best deal in comparison to the other options we have. So you should avoid deciding just from raw price tag perspective. Still there are too many combinations to decide which is better for when, so to make it more clearer here are some question you can ask yourself
a) Is AC important to you for this journey, enough to pay extra money?
b) Do you need to sleep during the travel? if yes would would normal chairs be fine or do you want a bed like in Sleeper class of train?
c) Would travel some extra hours to save money?
As the values for this question might be different for each travel, so put fares option you have in these and similar question and map out the best option for you price wise.
The experience is an important part and largely depends on the number of people are travelling with and what they want. If you want a bit private experience with your partner or family while travelling, especially if it is a long travel you can choose the AC sleeper class in trains, as they offer a more private travel. For bigger groups travelling in train is attractive as you get the option to gossip and are not be limited by the number of seats in a row. Where as when solo travelling due to the obvious luggage concern especially in the non-AC compartments, buses are much more preferred. If you want a non stop smooth and comfortable journey the premium VOLVO buses might be your option, as for many the jarring movement of train can be uncomfortable. Also busses offer much more quitter environment, so you want a silent commute alone, buses again are a better option. If you are travelling for business work buses are better for this exact reason on contrary to trains.
4. Location of your hotel
This is quite an under looked factor but it matters a lot. Most railway stations are normally little far from hotels that cater to tourists who are looking for a comfortable stay. On the other hand hotel catering to people on business trips or customers staying over a small stay are normally nearby railway stations. For example if you're travelling to Kolkata for a one day business work you are likely to take train and book a room in a hotel near Howrah railway station. On the other hand if you are visiting Kolkata as a tourist, you are likely to book a hotel near Park Street or similar places with unique hotels, which would be much close to major bus stops than railway junctions. This firstly saves you that double taxi fare, 2ndly the struggle to carry luggage's and in general makes things convenient, so after a long journey you can fall down in your Hotel bed sooner.
Bus Vs. Train will be a dilemma you'll always face and the answer will change with the change of location. It is always advisable to take into account all the factors before making a decision instead of just price. A good way to save money is to book hotels on hourly basis, if your really are short on budget but really would love that to travel by an AC bus instead of non-ac chair car for the silence and luggage safety. But at the end of the day it all boils down to preference.