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“Chinatown” Buses

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MegabusAfter college, my wife took a job in New Jersey and spent a year living is Piscataway, a little town in Middlesex County that is thirty-five miles away from New York City. That put it about two and a half hours away from me, a quaint 180 miles through about every single highway bottleneck and toll between Washington D.C. and New York City. I once estimated that the round trip cost of each drive, after fuel and tolls, was easily like $60-70 and we each made this trip nearly every weekend (either me driving up to NJ or her driving down here). So, when put to the decision of whether I’d ever drive home, home being out about mid-way on Long Island, I always chose to fly Southwest from BWI to Islip (MacArthur Airport) and that ticket could be found for only $80 (not anymore though!)

Having that as a baseline, isn’t it amazing that Chinatown buses sell tickets for practically nothing to essentially make that trip? DC/Baltimore to NYC for often less than twenty bucks each way? Some places offer them for less than ten if you take low demand rides (or even $1 if you’re the first ticket!). I’d always known about them but when Megabus started offering free Wi-Fi (reports are that it’s a little slow and depends on how many people are using the bandwidth with you), it really started to catch people’s attention.

The three most popular ones, based on my empirical evidence driving around I-95 and the NJ Turnpike, are:

I’m glad that their gaining in popularity because mass transportation is something that needs to be more established in this country. The first thought should always be to try rail or bus, rather than jumping into a car. I always try to find a rail or bus option because I like the flexibility of being able to do something else, rather than just drive.

Has anyone ever taken one and care to share their experiences? I’ve never tried them but they are really tempting given the price (and the trip time isn’t that much longer than driving yourself). My only concern about them is what happens if they break down?

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to ““Chinatown” Buses”

  1. I used Apex a couple of times in 2005 & 2006 between NYC and Baltimore. Aside from departure delays of 10-30 minutes (which I expected), there were no hiccups. However, my brother had a bus pull a no-show, probably due to insufficient bookings, and then the driver of the next bus tried to charge everyone another full fare. Also, be sure to book the ticket online in advance – the buses are often full, even if they don’t look it (there’s usually a second pick-up point).

    I’d probably do it again – it costs less than half what Greyhound charges.

  2. Mommyn'Money says:

    I used Megabus this past summer for a day trip from New York to Philly. I was blown away by the $13 roundtrip price on a Saturday. I would have easily spent that plus double in tolls.

    I was very surprised at the lines at the departure location. I was please with the friendly and helpful staff, service and clean, well kept bus. Overall, it was a very nice introduction to them and plan on using them as a very inexpensive means of travel/touring.

    I would recommend it. In fact, I have. Just plan in advance for the lowest price.

  3. Cheapo says:

    I have used Megabus for my past few trips to NYC and they have been great. Their prices beat driving my car, paying for parking, paying for gas, paying for toll, etc (of course this varies on the number of people traveling). I only had one bad experience with a driver, who supposedly had so many complaints that she was going to be fired. On average the driver’s tend to drive fast, yet they are safe, and make it back and forth in less time than it would take me if I drove (yeah I drive the speed limit or at most 10 above). Also some of their buses offer free wifi, which is pretty neat. Their buses are fairly new and the service has been extremely good. I have seen some last minute travelers purchase their ticket on site at the bus stop, but I think there is some fee added on. Also note they do not accept cash.

  4. Marifer Rodriguez says:

    Hi,

    I used to take the Chinatown buses from DC to NY all the time when I was in college. I don’t remember the actual names of the buses, because I will take different ones depending on my schedule. From my personal experience, they were all pretty good, you are right it takes about the same amount of time and you are actually able to do other things like sleep, homework, or even watch a movie. Only one time one of the buses broke down and that was kind of annoying since we had to wait for about 1 hour for another bus to come pick us up. But that’s probably 1 of out 20 times I took those buses, so to me, they are pretty reliable, and the best they are super cheap.

    Thanks for posting about this…I totally recommend using these buses instead of train, car or plane.

  5. Norm says:

    My wife and I used one of these for a 2 day trip from Washington DC to NYC. Very very cheap. The buses are relatively punctual, and in most cases in good working order. The bus drivers are characters themselves sometimes. We still joke about our return driver telling us that the toilet was broken and for us not to “boo-boo” in his toilet. A book, MP3 player, or an Internet enabled phone is your friend here.

    Also, a DC local advised me against booking in advance, since there are several bus companies operating at the same location or very close to each other, and they don’t often accept tickets from the other bus lines. YMMV.

  6. Money Maus says:

    I took the Fung Wah Chinatown bus from Boston-NYC (return) and it was certainly interesting… but CHEAP! I have not taken anything since then, 2.5 years ago.

    At least the options are still available and getting better. Hooray for public transportation!

  7. Patrick says:

    I haven’t taken the Chinatown bus, but I have heard of them. I remember that it was close to $20 in tolls for both ways just to go from Maryland to south New Jersey. It is definitely worth it now that the gas prices are still high. That’s pretty awesome that they also after WiFi. If I ever take a day trip up to NY, I am going on the Chinatown bus.

  8. Ben says:

    Bolt-bus is awesome. They are the ones who start their tickets at a dollar and then the price rises as more tickets are sold. All of the buses are new, and they also offer free wi-fi. I took it from Boston to New York and back and had no problems either way. I definitely recommend Bolt-bus.

    Fung Wah, on the other hand, not so much. I would definitely stay away. They have had many issues. From wiki: “Ian Grossman of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported that Fung Wah drivers rated in the worst 2 percent of drivers nationwide based on regulatory violations, and nine out of 71 Fung Wah drivers were suspended after inspection between 2004 and 2006″ Scary.

  9. I definely recommend taking the “Chinatown” buses and this is my main way of getting back and forth from DC to Philly where my family lives. I can go home for less than $40 roundtrip, can’t beat that! I only take Amtrak if I am under strict time constraints. I look forward to taking at least one day trip to NYC this fall and will try the Megabus because I have not used that particular line before.

  10. Margo says:

    I used Vamoose Buslines from Arlington VA to NYC over the holidays. $25 each way. You booked in advance but paid when you got there – a huge plus. (There is a pickup in Bethesda MD as well, but those are separate buses). Clean, efficient. Dropped me off right at Madison Square Garden, so I simply turned and walked a mile down 31st to my friend’s place in Midtown. This was perfect b/c my parents live in the ‘burbs, so I didn’t need to take the Metro into DC to grab the bus. I will use Vamoose again!

  11. Matt says:

    I’ve never used them in the Northeast, but a couple of friends recently used Megabus to come visit us in Chicago (where we live) from Detroit (where they live). They gave a positively glowing report. Excellent service, honest scheduling, good facilities, and since the bus only makes one stop in between (in Ann Arbor) as opposed to the many stops (and a transfer) the same trip would take on a Greyhound, the trip was faster and much more pleasant. (I’ve made similar trips on Greyhound. The experience of being crowded by large groups of obviously drug-addicted panhandlers at otherwise-deserted bus terminals in the middle of nowhere at 2 in the morning turned me off inter-city bus travel forever. But Megabus is actually apparently a very pleasant option.)

  12. Pennyscraper says:

    Hi

    I have been riding the NY to DC Bus for years. Its a no-frills, relatively hassel free form of transportation. It only cost us $35, round trip per person. I rode MVP BUS last weekend to run in the Baltimore Marathon.This time we were lucky enough to have the bus drop us off in my sister’s neighbourhood in Baltimore (note: this hardly ever happens).

  13. Think Money says:

    That megabus picture you used looks like its in my home town: Manchester Uk!

  14. Mark says:

    Yeah the Chinatown buses are starting to take off. Just a few years ago there was practically nothing, but now just about everybody rides em. A good site for finding tickets is http://www.busjunction.com.


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