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At the end of August I posted a blog entry about my impending trip to NYC and how I planned to get there. Over the years I traveled the Boston – New York City route many many times either by plane, train or car. Long ago I decided that taking a plane didn’t really make sense. Door to door it takes the same amount of time to fly as it does to drive, with more hassle and at a greatly increased cost. Long gone are the airlines offering round trip flights between Logan and La Guardia for $29. So for many years I drove between Boston and NYC, making sure to arrive in the city on Friday in time to snag a parking meter that ended at 6PM enabling me to park through Sunday. Sometimes the drive was pleasant and 4 – 4 1/2 hours, while other times it took longer especially when it was raining. One Thanksgiving it took me 8 hours to drive home in a heavy rain storm.

About a year or so ago I decided to give Amtrak a try in lieu of driving. I found I liked traveling this way. The seats were comfortable, there are no restrictions with regard to baggage numbers and contents, and getting to and from the stations are fairly easy. I just walk to Back Bay Station in Boston and hop the subway or bus when I arrive at Penn Station in NYC. Then this year I started hearing about two new bus services – BoltBus and Mega Bus. I already knew about the venerable GreyHound which I had long ago taken to the Berkshires, a trip much better by car. I thought of Peter Pan as only a regional service – it isn’t, I had heard about the troubles surrounding Fung Wah the first, much ballyhooed low cost bus service between Boston and NYC. I also frequently see the Luck Star buses refueling in the South End. The press surrounding Mega and Bolt was very positive as were rider reviews I found on line. So this time around I decided to try the bus. If I could get to NYC in the same time it took by train, at a fraction of the cost, all the better. Okay, so I decided to try BoltBus. I had heard slightly better things about it than about Mega, and my sister knows someone who uses BoltBus regularly.

Boston to NYC
I arrived at South Station at 8:30 AM for a 9:00 AM departure on BoltBus. BoltBus is a joint venture between Greyhound (owned by First Group PLC) and Peter Pan. Things were well organized. Passengers line up in one of 3 aisles labeled A B C. You line up according to the first letter of your ticket number. A BoltBus employee checks your boarding pass while you wait to board which facilitates the actual boarding process when the time comes. A’s board before B’s and B’s board before C’s and seating is unassigned. One of the big features touted by the bus line is its free WiFi service and electrical outlets. I didn’t need either and so it wasn’t until we were under way that I realized that not all the rows had outlets. Some of the rows towards the back of the bus – where I was sitting – did not have electrical outlets.

The ride to NYC was uneventful and on time. With free WiFi and electrical outlets available, I expected to see a lot of passengers taking advantage of their ride time to play games, catch up on work and surf the net. Maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was because it was Labor Day, most people seemed to nod off almost as soon as we left South Station. Needless to say, I got a lot of reading done and even took a short nap. It was a pleasantly quiet ride.

Going Home
Going home was almost like night and day from the trip down. I left NYC on Friday afternoon on a 2PM bus filled with New Yorkers making an early escape from the city for a weekend in Boston. The two guys behind me didn’t stop talking to each other or into their cell phones almost from the moment we boarded to the moment we arrived at South Station. The young woman next to me was moving from NY to Boston and had a plant on her lap for the entire ride and a bag at her feet that didn’t fit in the overhead.

Boarding in NY is curbside which makes the process a little more chaotic. Everyone was lined up in one line along the sidewalk next to the bus stop. When it came time to board the bus driver called out for the A passengers, then the B passengers, etc. It was hard to hear and for the most part we just ended up boarding in the order we had lined up in. The passengers on this trip were a little more lively. Having escaped from work early, some hadn’t truly escaped as they were a mere phone call away. The women in front of me got several phone calls from associates trying to wrap things up before heading out for their own weekend plans. Fewer people seemed to sleep on this trip, and there was a lot more traffic leaving the city than there was when we arrived on Monday. I had hoped that by leaving at 2PM rather than 4 or 5PM that I would miss the rush hour traffic, but this was Friday, the weather was terrific, and a lot of people are still doing the summer weekend escape thing. By the time we got to Cromwell CT. (approx half way home) we were 45 minutes behind schedule.

Because we were already behind schedule, and because on the way down the driver had not made a stop, I was surprised when the driver pulled off the highway and into a rest stop to give passengers 10 min to stretch their legs and get a snack. Once we got back on the highway it was clear sailing until we got through the 128 tolls on the Mass Pike. Then we pretty much crawled all the way to Newton off ramp which typically ties up Pike because of the light at the top of the ramp. I felt like I was never going to get home. We finally arrived at South Station at 7PM, a full hour after the scheduled arrival.

Train vs Bus or Plane – and the winner is …
So here are the take aways from my experience:

  • if you need to arrive at your destination at a specific time this may not be the best way to go
  • if you feel claustrophobic on a plane this may not be any better, although the windows are bigger
  • if you like quiet when you travel, the quiet car of an Amtrak may be a better bet
  • if you need to stretch your legs while traveling for four hours, you may prefer the train where you can stroll through the cars, or at least walk to and from the cafe car
  • if none of the above bothers you and you want a low fare with free WiFi and electricity, then this is the ride for you.
  • if you have long legs, do your self and fellow passengers a favor and take the train where your knees won’t end up pressing into the back of the seat in front of you.

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