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D.C. to New York: The Deals on the Bus Go Round and Round
2008-08-31
By Elizabeth McNamara
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 31, 2008; Page N02

Consider the lowly bus. Once scorned as the travel mode of last resort between Washington and New York, it has found a new level of popularity. Today no fewer than six bus lines serve those who want to make the 225-mile trek on Interstate 95.

And no wonder. Gas and toll prices are taking an ever-bigger chunk out of your wallet. Last-minute round-trip train tickets start at about $140. Flying can cost $200 or more. By comparison, you can make the round trip by bus for under $54, sometimes much less.

The increase in bus traffic along the Northeast corridor corresponds to a national trend. A January report by Joseph Schwieterman at DePaul University found that intercity buses have increased throughout the country at the fastest rate in more than 40 years, with a more than 13 percent jump in the past two years.

But with so many options, which carrier should Washingtonians choose if they want to waltz up Wall Street or watch the Yanks hit 'em out of Babe's house? We did the research to help you find the best bus for your buck.

BoltBus
http://www.boltbus.com

BoltBus is tres chic. Operated by Greyhound, this carrier has big, comfortable seats, tinted windows, electric sockets and free WiFi, making the new X-45 bus model a favorite of the MacBook-carrying passenger. Tickets for the six to 12 daily departures are assigned letters, with "A" boarding first, "B" second, etc., so book early with Bolt's user-friendly Web site to ensure a good seat. And reserve way early (about three months, the company advises) to snag the rare and coveted $1 fare. Before departure on a recent trip, the driver took a vote on whether to make a 20-minute rest stop near the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

Departs from:11th and G streets NW, just outside Metro Center Station.

N.Y. destinations:33rd Street and Seventh Avenue in Midtown and Sixth Avenue between Grand and Watts streets.

Price:$1-$23 one way (plus a 50-cent booking fee). Buy four trips and the fifth is free.

Chinatown Bus
http://www.chinatown-bus.com, 202-370-7958

Three bus lines are collectively known as "Chinatown" buses. Though they have a reputation for cheap Chinatown-to-Chinatown service, the lines have been at the center of some controversy. An intense rivalry has developed among the highly competitive companies. However, Chinatown Bus Inc. has brought together Eastern Travel, MVP Bus and Apex Bus to offer more departures than any other bus company with D.C.-to-New York service.

Tickets are cheap, but the discount comes with a price. One recent trip had a bus driver who yelled into his cellphone and constantly used a blue back-scratcher -- all while attempting to drive through a wicked thunderstorm. As a reward, buy yourself a $10 "faulex" watch when you reach your destination.

Departs from:610 I St. NW and 715 H St. NW. In Rockville, there are two early morning departures from 305 N. Washington St.

N.Y. destinations:88 E. Broadway, 252 W. 31st St. and 430 Seventh Ave.

Price:$20 one way.

Greyhound and Peter Pan
http://www.greyhound.com, 800-231-2222; http://www.peterpanbus.com, 800-343-9999

For a little over a decade, these two lines have been working in tandem to offer 24-7 D.C.-to-New York bus service. Tickets are more expensive than most other carriers', but conductors are very relaxed about the departure time on your ticket. Buses depart regularly, so simply get in line and you'll be on the next bus with a seat available. Lines tend to be long on weekends, particularly when leaving the Port Authority in Manhattan, so arrive early.

Not all routes are direct; you might end up on a trip that lasts more than six hours if you forget to ask for nonstop service. Sometimes the buses are clean; other times, not at all. And, though the Greyhound terminal is only a few blocks from the Metro at Union Station, we don't advise walking between the two. It's just a bit too far to schlep heavy luggage, and the area has had problems with crime.

Departs from: Greyhound terminal, 1005 First St. NE.

N.Y. destinations: Port Authority, 625 Eighth Ave.

Price: From $20 one way using Greyhound's e-Fares.

Megabus
http://www.megabus.com, 877-462-6342

Megabus (working with Olympia Bus Co.) started its D.C.-to-New York service in May. The curbside carrier offers a few tickets at ludicrously low prices before they rise with demand. Meaning that, though fares can be as cheap as $1 (plus 50-cent Internet booking fee), you're more likely to pay about $20. There are no refunds, but you can change your departure time with advance notice. Some of the company's buses are double-deckers, which is a fun way to travel. Note that some buses stop outside Baltimore, which can affect travel time.

The company hasn't worked out all the kinks yet. On one recent trip, an accident delayed the bus's arrival, and because there was no communication between the driver and the sidewalk ticket agent, passengers waiting to board didn't know what was going on.

Departs from:11th and G streets NW, just outside Metro Center Station.

N.Y. destinations: Penn Station, Eighth Avenue between 33rd and 31st streets.

Price:$1-$23 one way.

Vamoose
http://www.vamoosebus.com, 877-393-2828

Since Vamoose began navigating the I-95 Beltway-to-Manhattan trek, it has earned a reputation for cleanliness and punctuality. The bus does not stop in the District because of a 2004 lawsuit settlement with Washington Deluxe, a competing company also based in Brooklyn. However, Vamoose stops close to the Bethesda and Rosslyn Metro stations and has two to seven departures a day. You reserve your seat online, then pay in cash when boarding. The buses are easy to distinguish: You'll know it's Vamoose when you spot a cute decal of a bus sprouting moose antlers.

Departs from:7490 Waverly St., Bethesda; 1801 N. Lynn St., Arlington.

N.Y. destinations: Penn Station, 255 W. 31st St.

Price:$25 one way. Collect four ticket stubs and get one free ride.

Washington Deluxe
http://www.washingtondeluxe.com, 866-287-6932

Washington Deluxe is the only major carrier we evaluated that stops in Brooklyn. In addition to three stops there, it has two stops in Manhattan and four in the District. This bus usually makes a 20-minute rest stop near the Delaware Memorial Bridge and plays two movies that are usually kid-friendly.

Departs from: Tenleytown, 4530 40th St. NW; Dupont Circle, 1333 19th St. NW; McPherson Square, 1015 15th St. NW; and near Union Station, 441 New Jersey Ave. NW.

N.Y. destinations: In Manhattan: 122 Allen St. and 303 W. 34th St. In Brooklyn: 155 Empire Blvd., Bedford Avenue and Park Avenue, and 203 Havemeyer St.

Price:$21 one way, $40 round trip ($25 each way on Saturdays).