08 March 2010

The Boston-New York City Commute

usAn old college buddy asked on Facebook:

Going up to Boston from NYC: Megabus, Bolt Bus, or rickety Chinatown bus? What say you, oh Facebook friends?

I've made this commute about two or three times a month, more or less every month since Sept. 2007, so I had a few comments.

(All buses stop at South Station in Boston, unless otherwise noted.)

Bolt Bus is the best all-around option. The Prevost X3-45 coaches have lots of legroom, nice seats (some even have seatbelts), WiFi, and power outlets. A ticket on a less-than-full bus is $15.50 with all fees included. As a given bus sells out, the price gets closer to $20. BB leaves from 34th and 8th, right by Penn Station. Disadvantages: BB sells out quickly on Fridays. You can often buy a seat as a standby for $20 in cash, but even this is tricky at peak hours on Fridays -- there are lots of other standby passengers. The midtown departure can be slow on Monday mornings -- sometimes, the driver will go through NJ to avoid driving north through Manhattan. (Today, I left at 7:30 and arrived around 12:07.) Get an account: you get a free ride after every eight tickets, and you're automatically placed in the first boarding group when you sign in, so you get first pick of the sea

I haven't taken Megabus since they moved to Back Bay station, but I understand they've switched back to South Station as of March 1, 2010. They now operate double-decker coaches which I haven't taken. Their single-decker coaches had WiFi (which sometimes worked), but no power outlets. Their NYC stop was also right by Penn Station. Update: they're back at South Station. Impressions here.

Fung Wah Bus and Lucky Star Bus are "Chinatown" bus lines, so named because their NYC stops are in Chinatown. FW and LS rarely sell out and have gate agents at both ends of the route, so you can buy tickets minutes before departure. Tickets are $15, except for a $25 2:30 a.m. departure. LS advertises WiFi but I've never managed to get it to work. (My Debian setup may be a complicating factor; for some reason, LS uses encrypted WiFi.) LS has a slightly shorter route from the Williamsburg Bridge to the stop in NYC, otherwise, the two are very similar. The NYC stops are a short walk from the B/D and a longer walk up Canal St. from the 6. The seat pitch on the FW/LS buses is much smaller than on the Bolt Bus, so it's harder to work with a laptop.

Chinatown buses have a reputation for cutting corners on maintenance, safety, and driver training; I've heard horror stories. On the plus side, they tend to be a bit faster than the other lines, and I've also heard that they've cleaned up their act. I haven't had a problem, yet.

Greyhound also runs the Prevost X3-45 on the Boston-New York route, so passengers have WiFi and outlets. Greyhound's prices are slightly higher (especially if you don't buy tickets from their website). Their Manhattan destination is the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which is very grim. On the plus side, they're the only operator with buses from Manhattan in the wee hours of the morning. Make sure you pick a route with no stops (or at most one stop); you certainly do not want the eight-hour multi-stop tour of Connecticut.

General observations:

If you're lucky, the driver won't waste 10-20 minutes stopping at a rest area. Very late and very early buses are less likely to stop. Keep in mind that all buses have bathrooms, so the stop is primarily for people who can't go for four hours without eating.

Leaving at unpopular hours makes the trip much more pleasant. Not only will you avoid traffic, but you're more likely to have an empty seat next to you. (This is particularly important on the Chinatown buses, where the seats are tiny.)

Bus WiFi can be unreliable; a tethering card or a smartphone with tethering capability lets you skip the "will the WiFi work?" lottery. I've had good connectivity through Verizon Wireless for the whole route.

South Station has a parking deck on the roof; the first 15 minutes are free. If you're really cheap, you could idle outside the gate until whomever you're picking up gets there...

LimoLiner. Premium bus service. I've seen advertisements in South Station but never tried them.

Non-bus options:

Amtrak. Amtrak has two services: the Northeast Regional (about 4 to 4.5 hours) and the Acela Express (about 3.5 hours). Prices range from $50 and up for the Regional and about $90 and up for the Acela; prices rise considerably as the trains sell out. I used to take the Regional frequently; I've never taken the Acela. The primary advantages are nicer seats, a quieter ride, outlets, and tray tables. The train also has a snack bar. Acela, I've heard, has finally begun to roll out WiFi.

The only major reason to take the Regional is to avoid traffic, otherwise, the Bolt Bus makes the exact same trip, in about the same amount of time at off-peak hours. BB's seats are smaller and lacks tray-tables, but has WiFi and more frequent departures. An off-peak Chinatown bus is often faster than the regional. If you're heading to the northern Bronx, you can shave a fair bit of time off your trip by getting off the Regional at New Rochelle (note that only some trains stop there) and taking a taxi, instead of going all the way to Penn Station and back out again.

Flying. I haven't flown BOS-NYC, but L. has taken a few flights. Delta seems to be the cheapest for last-minute fares, based on a very small sample size. The flight is fast but the TSA delay and the difficulty of getting from New York's airports into Manhattan will slow you down. LGA has no subway stop (Robert Caro blamed this on Robert Moses); you can take the (slow) M60 bus, which meets the N/W in Queens and the 2/3 and the 4/5/6 and the A/B/C/D at 125th St. in Manhattan.

At JFK, you can take the AirTrain for $5 to the A train or to the LIRR (a CityTicket may save you a few dollars) into Penn Station. There is a flat $45 cab fare from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan.

New York Airports Service, a private shuttle, runs from LGA to Penn Station; I've taken it several times, although not lately. You can also fly to Newark, where the AirTrain will take you to NJ Transit to Penn Station. You can also take a local bus from EWR to the PATH into Manhattan. (I haven't tried this.) Wikitravel has a more detailed rundown of how to get into NYC from its airports.

Driving. Pluses: you can go door-to-door. You can take FDR Drive and skip all the lights in Manhattan. Minuses: you can't work, have to stay awake (assuming that you're driving yourself), and have to find a place to park. I've only tried this once.


Take BoltBus, unless you are leaving very late when BB doesn't run, leaving at peak hours and could not get an advance ticket, or have an origin/destination in the Lower East Side and would like to avoid going through midtown. Take the Greyhound if you have to leave really late or want a nicer ride when Bolt Bus is sold out. Take the Chinatown bus if you need to make a last-minute trip. Take the Regional if you want to avoid traffic, take the Acela if you want to go a bit faster. Fly if you need to minimize travel time and don't mind the price and the 90 minutes or so when you have to be offline.


  1. Wow, you must be seeing some exceptionally pretty girl in New York to justify a regular commute of that length :D


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