Battle of the Bus
Getting to the Big Apple for the holidays
For years, one of the first BU insider secrets shared with out-of-state students has been the Chinatown bus to New York City. With $15 fares, no advance booking, and buses every hour on the hour, companies like Fung Wah and Lucky Star have become student favorites.
But the arrival of Boltbus and Megabus in spring 2008, both offering $1 seats (or at least one $1 seat) and wireless access, has shaken up the BOS-NYC bus route. Choice is always good, but with Thanksgiving around the corner, will the new companies get you back to the Big Apple in style, and ready for some turkey?
BU Today went undercover, traveling on Boltbus and Megabus with no warning that we’d be writing about the experiences. Here’s the skinny, and click on each bus line’s logo for details, line by line.
Owned by Greyhound, Boltbus launched in April 2008, promising on-board wireless access, power outlets, and more legroom than regular bus lines.
Booking a ticket through its Web site was a snap, and I was pleased to find the bus would be leaving from South Station. My ticket, booked on a Wednesday afternoon for a Friday trip, cost $18.50. Boltbus uses a lottery system, offering a limited number of $1 seats; the price increases the closer to departure you book.
Boltbus appears to have a complicated boarding system, with lettered groups, much like air travel. On my trip, none of it meant anything. We were seated first-come, first-served.
The bus was new, with flat-panel television screens, working outlets (two of them directly in front of each aisle seat), comfortable air conditioning, and a clean bathroom. I had no trouble connecting to the free wireless network with my MacBook, and although the connection was not the fastest (videos on YouTube would occasionally lag), it was consistent throughout the trip.
The driver was a likable character, although he didn’t endear himself to passengers when he announced that our arrival at Penn Station would be closer to 5:30 than 4:30, as listed on our tickets. Despite the fancy television screens, there was no movie, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone — most were busy on Facebook.
Finally, legroom. Boltbus may advertise more legroom than other bus lines, but at 5’10”, I didn’t notice much difference. Then again, I was much more focused on my Office reruns, fantasy football picks, and e-mail correspondence.
On the way back, I gave Megabus a shot. Owned by the U.K. company Stagecoach, Megabus started running between Boston and New York in May 2008.
My ticket for a Sunday afternoon trip set me back $17. I booked it on Friday (using the Boltbus wireless connection, incidentally) and found the Megabus Web site pretty straightforward. Like its rivals, Megabus uses a lottery system and offers $1 tickets for those able to act in advance. The later you are, the more you pay.
Unlike Boltbus, Megabus arrives and departs from Back Bay Station, while in New York, the coach drops you off on the street beside Penn Station. Though there was no sign to mark the stop, three Megabuses lining up at the curb gave it away — this company is not shy about painting its buses bright colors.
My enduring impression of the Megabus boarding experience in New York: mass chaos. After 20 minutes of wondering if I was in the right queue, an agent appeared, sped down the line frantically checking passenger names off his list, spun around, and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Everyone going to Boston, that bus right there!” If I hadn’t fine-tuned my shoving skills through years of Chinatown bus travel, I might have been trampled.
I did manage to secure a seat near the front. The bus appeared to be new and clean, with working A/C, television screens, and a bathroom. Our driver was not the most socially skilled, but he left on time and got us back in four and half hours flat, as promised.
The wireless connection was just as easy as on Boltbus; if anything, it was a little faster. I enjoyed it immensely — until my battery died two and half hours into the trip. I had underestimated the importance of power outlets.
While I had a pleasant trip, there is one Megabus gripe: no eating allowed on board. On a trip lasting from four to six hours, that’s bad news. More irritating was that I’d been holding two slices of pizza in a to-go box when the agent checked my ticket, and he neglected to mention that I wouldn’t be allowed to eat them. The driver did that for him, in no uncertain way.
Lucky Star, one of the Chinatown bus companies, has started offering $1 fares on its Web site. Fung Wah’s cheapest seats are still $15, as are those on Greyhound and Peter Pan (different name, same company) when you book online with certain promotions.
Greyhound’s new fleet offers wireless access, outlets, and improved legroom, but there is no way of knowing if you will be riding a bus from the new fleet or the old one when you book online. Thus far, neither of the Chinatown lines offers wireless access.
Have you had a different experience? Please share it with us in the comment section below.
Edward A. Brown can be reached at email@example.com Comments