Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Car Vs. The Megabus

The Challenge: What is the better way to go to New York City from Baltimore? Let's get ready to rummmmmble.

2006 Hyundai Santa Fe
Seats four comfortably, five in a pinch
Double-decker motor coach
50-80 passengers depending on the bus
Cup holders, FM radio-CD player, iPod jack
WiFi (but no power outlets), foot rests
Travel time:
I’ve done it in four hours door to door, but that requires an awful lot of luck on the New Jersey Turnpike. With rest stops, I like to figure on five hours but I allow for six just in case traffic is bad, as it usually is either at the Delaware Memorial Bridge or north of Turnpike exit 8. And southbound is always at least one snarl.

Five hours and thirty minutes door to door because the bus was a half hour late getting to us from DC and ended up nearly an hour late arriving. If we had been trying to catch a 2 p.m. matinee show we would have been screwed.

Coming back the driver must have flown, because even though we were the last of the 9:45 buses to leave, we were home before 2 a.m.

Harbor Tunnel - $2.00 x 2
Maryland Toll Plaza: $5.00 (NB only)
Lincoln Tunnel: $6.00
New Jersey Turnpike: free NB (if you take the Lincoln tunnel), $4.20 SB
Delaware Bridge: $3.00 (SB only)
Delaware: $4.00 x 2
Total tolls: $30.20

In reality, on my last driving trip when I went up on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and back the Saturday after, I only paid $13.80, mostly on the way back. Far more typical is my summer trip to Cape Cod when the total tolls were $25.45 including crossing both the George Washington Bridge and the Tappan Zee looking for our hotel. I’m not questioning the bargains. That is up for EZPass to deal with.
The park and ride the Megabus leaves from is at White Marsh which is still four bucks in tolls round trip from my house.

Very. But the driver is forbidden to sleep.

The seats were a little on the narrow side, so make sure you like who you sit next to. Not that it matters if you plan to sleep both ways like my son and I did.
Travel Flexibility:
Infinite. We can leave anytime and return anytime.

Not bad. Northbound buses run about once an hour in the morning. We had to take the 9:25 one because some of the earlier ones had sold out. On the return trip, the choices are 7:15, 9:45 and midnight. The bus stop, such as it is, is the sidewalk on the southside of Penn Station/Madison Square Garden which is way more convenient than other bus companies. There is no covered shelter, so inclement weather could be a hazard. It had just starting raining after our half hour wait in the cold coming back.
Varies widely. I budget about 20 miles per gallon and it’s 400 miles round trip. At a buck-fifty a gallon, that’s only thirty bucks, at four dollars a gallon it can push eighty.

Varies widely. Megabus has a very gimmicky pricing policy. The first seat sold for any given bus is only a buck. Then the price goes up a dollar for each additional seat sold. They can get pricey in a hurry. Our total bill for three people round trip was $99.50 since they had a fifty cent handling charge per order.
Parking in New York City can be very expensive. Depending on whether you are day tripping or staying at a hotel it can run from twenty bucks to fifty bucks a day.
Free as long as you trust the White Marsh park and ride lot.

Bottom Line:

I like the freedom of driving my own car up to New York. We don’t ever drive it while we’re there, but it makes going and coming back more flexible. For example, on Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to spend Saturday exploring the Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side rather than rushing right back.

Great for day trips or short stays. I’d hate to be lugging more than one bag around New York although the cabs are plentiful in the area if you need to take one to a hotel. The semi-flea bag Hotel Pennsylvania is right across the street for bargain hunters. Book early for the best deals and allow plenty of time for delays.


Anonymous said...

Try Radio City Apartments the next time you want to stay overnight in NYC. With a kitchenette and fridge you can eat like a pig for a pittance by reheating left overs from your favorite eateries and supplementing with great deli food. Walking distance from Penn Station, Times Square and in good weather even the Met is not so far.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! My daughter's been a Megabus regular since she moved to NYC in August. She left on the 3:25 bus today, but we have no experience with same day round trips. I must say that Megabus (and White Marsh Park and Ride) seen a lot nicer than the Chinatown buses (and O'Donnell Street Travel Plaza). Megabus is usually cheaper too - I've lucked into $7 and $8 tickets several times. I did experience the Hotel Pennsylvania about 15 years ago and semi-fleabag is an accurate description. My favorite NYC hotel was the Drake Swissotel, where someone once goofed and gave us a full suite for $200 a night. Alas, it is no more.

yellojkt said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll look into it. I think our next trip is in February. Don't know whether we'll day trip it or make it a weekend.

One of the guys in line for the megabus had the four dollar seat. I've never stayed at any of the UES hotels. They are way too pricey. We got the Waldorf for a deal right after 9/11. My wife wants one night at the Mandarin, but that is way pricey.

Elizabeth said...

Wow, I had no ideas tolls were so expensive!

yellojkt said...

The tolls are just life in the Northeast. And now a lot of local highways are about to add toll lanes.

Anonymous said...

How do you manage riding on the NJ Turnpike for absolutely nothing? I can cut it way back to $1 by taking 295 up to Exit 60 and then getting on at 7A, then riding to the Outerbridge Crossing (because I'm going to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Long Island, not Manhattan), but I'm not so sure I can get it all the way to zero.

Also, why not just take the beltway around the west side up to I-95 and skip the Harbor Tunnel fees?

Michael Dresser describes a route that cuts the round-trip tolls to $1 and you supposedly don't lose much time. I haven't tried it yet, but here it is. (Scroll to the bottom of the column.)

yellojkt said...

If you go to the official toll calculator you can figure it out. According to them the Lincoln Tunnel is free or very cheap. The only thing I can figure is that they were have a fare holiday going into Thanksgiving, because I didn't get charged for anything northbound.

I'm not sure driving through Lancaster to avoid the tolls counts as a shortcut.

Anonymous said...

I just moved to the mid-Atlantic region from New England. The tolls! My God the tolls!! They're out of control!

A Free Man said...

It would be interesting to compare environmental impact. I'm of the opinion that mass transit is better in terms of emissions, but would be cool to see the emissions per capita of five people in an SUV versus 50 people in a bus.

yellojkt said...

I have to think the bus would come out way ahead, although I am not very fond of diesel fumes. And those buses tend to idle a lot.

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