Keep On Bussin'
After several months of commuting weekly from New York City to the Book of Odds office in Boston, I'm looking forward to continuing my editorial work here at the website…from home.
One thing's for sure: I've received quite an education in bus travel.
Why the bus? It's by far the most cost-effective way to travel the roughly 220 miles between New York and Boston. Depending on which bus company you take, the cost of a one-way trip can be as little as $15, and is always under $30. That's less than—or at worst, competitive with—the cost of gas and tolls if you drive; and someone else does the driving! Plus, without a car, I don't have to worry about paying for parking.
Flying? Expensive, and way too much hassle for a relatively short haul like this. Amtrak? Pricey—and you don't even get speed for your money. The regular train actually takes longer than the bus, and even the Acela high-speed rail beats the bus by only 30 minutes or so.
So, besides super-commuting Book of Odds editors, who takes the bus?
Students. Lots and lots of students. The odds of a passenger on this route being a student are, by my unscientific estimate, 1 in 1.33 (75%).
People looking for jobs. When the wi-fi is working and people whip out their laptops, about 1 in 2 keyboard-peckers are scanning the job listing websites or composing cover letters. With unemployment near ten percent, that doesn't seem too surprising.
Everyone else: the remainder of the bus-hounds fall into a few common categories: young people from overseas touring the East Coast on the cheap; business travelers like me, maybe 1 in 15; and the occasional traveling auntie.
Families with kids seem to prefer the train, maybe because trains have room to move around a bit. It's probably worth the extra money to give your kids a chance to run up and down the aisle once in a while so they don't explode into piles of quivering goo.
Are the buses reliable? Mostly. The odds a bus will be more than 15 minutes late seem to be about 1 in 5, and those 20% of slow trips are caused by traffic the bus driver has no control over (though I've seen some drivers take some impressively roundabout routes to avoid backed-up stretches of I-95).
I mentioned wi-fi. The newer buses offer electrical outlets and wi-fi, but the connection is unreliable, so you can't count on getting much work done online if you don't have your own service.
You can get your personal business done, though; all the buses have a tiny bathroom in the back.
And you can stash luggage underneath if you have something too big to carry on. No extra charge. (Are you listening, airlines?)
The three bus lines I used varied in price, seat comfort, onboard storage space, cleanliness, brightness of reading lights, and other factors. On balance, the Greyhound/Peter Pan line has more of what I like. They're the most expensive, but compared to non-bus options, still a deal.
Most people like a window seat, but I like to sit on the aisle where I feel less locked-in. It's a convenient preference: if I arrive relatively late, I still get the type of seat I want.
But do you know what I like even better? Not having to take the bus, the train, the car, or any form of transportation at all. According to the US Census American Community Survey from 2008, 1 in 25 people work at home. That works out to over five and a half million people—and a lot of gas not burned.