The Best Way Out: A Frequent Traveler’s Review of Inter-city Transportation
If you’re visiting friends in Boston, headed for Torah Tours in Philadelphia, or participating in a conference in Washington D.C., chances are high that you’ll be taking a bus. Bus companies are eager to shed old perceptions of sending travelers on unreliable, unsafe, and uncomfortable “Chinatown buses,” by offering competitive rates, high frequency, and free wifi to destinations around the United States and Canada. But not all bus companies are the same.
A year of paying attention to customer service, comfort, and convenience with the help of other “seasoned” riders from the YU community, has rounded out my review. I tried to ignore individual horror stories—all bus companies have them—and focus instead on what you should expect from each bus. Below are the top five bus companies—Tripper, Megabus, Bolt, Vamoose and Greyhound—operating among most major cities on the Eastern seaboard. For those interested in train riding, Amtrak is included as well.
Ask anyone to name a discounted bus line and they’ll say Greyhound with a cringe. Thanks to ceaseless torments in movies and television shows, the company suffers from a long history of being associated with the drudgery of public bussing. However, the company has made monumental strides in changing that image. The new Greyhound express bus that runs between most cities has all the latest creature comforts: outlets, legroom, leather seats, and even seatbelts. While its website may be a little hard to navigate, prices are competitive with Megabus and Bolt.
Bottom Line: Greyhound is an underrated company and worth a try. Be sure to buy tickets online and look out for faster express buses.
It may be the idiosyncratic employees of Tripper Transportation, the personal service, the buy-four-tickets-get-the-fifth-free deal, or the free water bottle, but something keeps “Trippers” loyal. The company isn’t particularly concerned with branding—most buses are unmarked. The buses are not particularly glamorous—all have simple cloth seats. The routes are limited and the frequency low, but it is perhaps these very qualities that ensure the focus consumer happiness. The drivers are the friendliest in the business; the phone customer service is quick, easy, and human; pickup is right outside the Penn Station; and you’re almost guaranteed extra seats on a quiet bus. It’s the kind of bus you can ask the driver to turn down the A/C and he’ll ask for your name.
Bottom Line: It’s worth it to sacrifice for Tripper’s warm and friendly environment, and the high chance of extra seats to sprawl out on.
These big blue $800,0000 double-decker behemoths with creepy pink nymph logos are the beasts of I-95. But beware; once the novelty of the second floor dulls, you’ll realize you’ve moved into a cramped, hot, and loud bus. There’s only one outlet for each pair of seats and the likelihood of there being an empty seat next to you is extremely slim. The wifi is underwhelming. The decorum leaves much to be desired. The pickup location at Penn Station is difficult to find, and if you come less than ten minutes before departure, you risk losing your seat. That being said, the frequency of Megabuses means its easy to catch a bus within the next hour to your destination should you miss the bus. Tickets are attractively priced at least twenty percent lower than competition. But, you get what you pay for.
Bottom line: Industrial transportation that looks attractive but is impersonal and uncomfortable.
If it’s comfort you’re looking for, look no further than Bolt Bus. Copious amounts of legroom, cool leather seats, guaranteed outlets, and faster wifi put Bolt above the rest of the pack. Like Megabus, Bolt is a large corporation (jointly owned by Greyhound and Peter Pan) and the same long lines await you outside Penn Station. Don’t be surprised if employees bark at customers. While the company promotes “Bolt for a Buck” by starting rates at $1, finding those rock-bottom prices requires advanced future planning.
Bottom Line: Bolt is better than Megabus, but be prepared for a few disappointments.
Amtrak trains are certainly the classiest way to travel in the Northeast corridor. Huge seats, multiple cars, a specified food car, and of course, fast service will have you wishing you bought a ticket as you sit in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. But a ticket isn’t cheap. Tickets on the federally subsidized trains can be six times the price of buses. If you want to go on the super-fast Acela, be prepared to fork over $250. Despite the steep cost, Amtrak’s wifi is notoriously unreliable and you’ll have to go to the food car for outlets. You might not want to rely on the food car for a mid-journey snack—its prohibitively expensive. If you’re lucky you might find celebrities and politicians traveling on the train; Vice President Joe Biden is known as Mr. Amtrak.
Bottom Line: Extremely expensive but fast. Great for Friday travel.
Vamoose advertises itself as a “First Class Coach Bus,” and for good reason. Fares start at a whopping $30. If you’re willing to pay $60 for a one-way ticket you can ride in the Vamoose Gold Bus, a luxurious coach with leather seats and 50 percent more legroom. Either way you should expect very clean buses and very courteous drivers and curbside staff. Their rewards program incentivizes returning customers with a points program to earn free tickets. Beware, though, decorum on Vamoose’s buses can be less than satisfactory because drivers are hesitant to quiet high-paying customers.
Bottom line: Vamoose’s buses can’t compete with the luxury of Amtrak’s trains, but are an economical way of traveling in guaranteed comfort.
A small business running out of Baltimore, Superior Tours offers a clean, comfortable ride with pleasant service, but you’ll need to be traveling at specific times to get it. Superior’s target demographic is retirees coming up to New York for a day of shopping, Broadway Matinees, and fancy restaurants. But if you need a ride to Baltimore at exactly 6:00pm (or 6:30 on Sundays), they’re strongly worth your consideration. Although a bit pricier than Bolt or Megabus (one way will run you $28, after a student discount), you’ll get a comfortable trip, usually with your own row, and there is even a hostess and in-ride film. One serious drawback for students is they don’t have wifi or power outlets, so if sports dramas or horse movies aren’t your thing, pack a good book.
Bottom Line: Good service and small crowds, if the trip fits your schedule.
Reporting was contributed by Nathan Denikoff ’15, and Yoni Melman, ’13.