Last spring I moved to Washington, D.C. for an internship. Growing up and spending most of my life in the Midwest made the idea of exploring the Northeast corridor during the weekends very appealing. New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia — cities rich with American history were all within hours reach by highway.
But I went to Washington without my car. No wheels — just a pass used for riding Washington’s Metro Rail system. It was a move that may have saved me from parking and traffic headaches in the nation’s capital, but left cut me off from traveling outside D.C. at a reasonable price.
I searched for alternatives. Amtrak was a natural choice. There was a station near my house and I could get to large destinations in a short amount of time. But the price was a big turn-off. $120 to go roundtrip to NYC — on an intern’s salary? There had to be something better. Luckily, there was.
I was surprised when I found how many private buses offer service between Washington D.C. and major cities across the Northeastern corridor, particularly to New York City. The prices were good, the travel times were decent and there were plenty of companies to choose from. Move over Greyhound; Vamoose, MegaBus and DC2NY are some of the new dogs in town.
What is most remarkable about these new bus services are the prices. At one point, I paid $9 to go one-way to go from Washington to New York on Mega Bus. It cost me about the same each day to go from my house in Alexandria to my internship in Northwest D.C. on the Metro Rail.
Snagging a fare for less than $10 is a case of being in the right place at the right time, but fares under $20 are not hard to come by. Bolt and Mega Bus are also known for sometimes selling tickets for as little as $1. Like getting an airplane ticket, it all depends upon availability and how far in advance the ticket is booked. A basic reservation search of the companies websites turned up these prices for next month, December 1st:
Mega Bus: $7-19
Apex Bus: $20
Washington Deluxe: $21
Prices may fluctuate as the date gets closer and as availability changes. This example reflects prices about one month in advance for a one-way ride from Washington D.C. to New York City.
Getting the Little Extras
Many of the bus service providers offer Wi-Fi and plug-ins at the seats. This is a blessing on those rides that go longer than a few hours, including the Washington to New York City route which is about 4.5 hours.
Not all companies and buses are equipped with this service. Mega Bus, Bolt, Apex, DC2NY, Washington Deluxe and Vamoose all claim to have both Wi-Fi and AC plugins on most or all of their buses, according to their respective websites. Although, they go on to claim they cannot guarantee the Wi-Fi to work at all times. I experienced outages throughout my trips with Mega Bus on the Washington to New York route. I was only able to plug in my laptop on one bus, as well.
Cleanliness, Safety and Everything Else that Matters
Wi-Fi and AC Plugins availability is a small part of choosing a bus. Although important, cleanliness, safety and comfort are really what matter when traveling on a bus for several hours. I can do without streaming Netflix movies on my iPod if it means making sure my back will be okay when I get off the bus or not having to worry about whether the driver can keep the bus on the road.
Andrea Sachs, a reporter with the Washington Post, set out on the ultimate road trip in 2009. She traveled on several buses and wrote about her experiences, detailing them in this article. Her findings are worth a read for anyone considering travel on these bus lines.
The Bus: A Good Choice?
A bus ride may not go as smoothly as planned. Sometimes the buses run behind, the outdoor wait can be uncomfortable and you never know who the mystery person will be next to you.
It is all about where value is placed. I found there is some joy in not having to park a car in New York, not paying tolls on the highways, not worrying about traffic and saving a lot of money on filling up a car or buying a train ticket.
Everyone places value on different things — this is a choice for those who do not mind taking a little gamble to save some money.