Battle Of The Buses

Hop on megabus.com for a great deal

July 27, 2008|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun reporter

With a slowing economy and rising gas prices, travelers are looking for ways to vacation on the cheap. Nothing seems quite as frugal as taking the bus. Trust us, we know. Three Sun reporters each traveled from Baltimore to New York on the same day on three different bus lines - the new, upstart megasbus.com, the Chinatown bus and the stalwart Greyhound. The good news is everyone made it back safely. The bad news is some of them may never go near a bus again.

Let's get right to the important stuff. Here's the bottom line on my recent megabus trip from Baltimore to New York City: It cost 50 cents. That's not a typo.

Look, I'd ride in the back of a garbage truck if it got me to Manhattan for 50 cents. I'd ride in the back of a rattling Chevy Chevette with your grandma snoring and drooling on my shoulder. But this was a spacious new bus. The bathroom was operating-room clean. The driver wasn't weaving all over the road with a flask sticking out of his back pocket. How could you go wrong?

OK, I was able to score that great price - the tickets were actually free, with a 50-cent service charge tacked on - as part of a recent promotion announcing service between the Big Crab and the Big Apple. But megabus.com, a low-cost express bus service that originated in Europe, offers fares as low as $1 through the Internet. Prices rise the closer you book to your day of departure, but they're still said to be cheaper than other bus lines. And with service to New York; Buffalo, N.Y.; Boston; Philadelphia; Atlantic City, N.J.; Baltimore and Washington along the East Coast - it also operates in seven West Coast cities and 17 Midwest cities - it seems a bargain in this time of soaring gas prices and financial uncertainty. Don't ask me how they make money at those prices. And I don't really care. I just hope the business doesn't go belly-up before I can take advantage of it a few hundred times.

We met the 8:25 a.m. bus at its Baltimore pickup and drop-off location at the White Marsh Park & Ride lot near the intersection of White Marsh and Honeygo boulevards. You can't miss the bus - it has the same garish blue-and-yellow color scheme as the nearby IKEA. It was five minutes late - think anyone with 50-cent tickets complained?

Some passengers had boarded in D.C., and as we roared off to New York, the bus was about two-thirds full. I sat across the aisle from Kathy Sherinski, from Street in Harford County, with her 6-year-old daughter Natasha. The two were headed to Manhattan for a modeling audition for Natasha and were impressed with the bus' speckled-blue, futuristic-looking interior.

"It's very nice, roomy, very convenient," Kathy Sherinski said. "We're starting to travel more and more to New York. My husband saw an ad for this. So I went online, looked [at the 50-cent price] and said, 'What's the gimmick?' " Whatever the gimmick was, we were all OK with it.

Rosemary Demenno from Washington was meeting her mom in Manhattan as part of a Mother's Day gift, and noted that her mother's trip from Easton, Pa., was costing her $40. "I've done all the buses, Greyhound, Chinatown, Vamoose - this is by far the best price," she said.

The trip to New York was uneventful, just the way I like my bus rides. No breakdowns, no skidding off the road into the median strip, no near-misses with caffeinated, lane-changing psycho drivers. We made a quick stop for a bathroom break at the travel plaza in Delaware, where our driver, Hank, told us: "Don't go to Bob's Big Boy and order a burger and sit down, 'cause you won't have enough time." Hank also reminded us that the bus was parked at the North Plaza exit. "Don't go to the other side and say, 'Oh, my God, the bus isn't here! He left me!' "

We rumbled through the Lincoln Tunnel a little before noon and arrived at Penn Station, Eighth Avenue and 31st Street, at 12:25 p.m. This was 45 minutes after our listed arrival time, but traffic was at its usual nightmare level. Again, no one complained. "For 50 cents, you can't beat it," said Chandrika Parekh of Columbia before she set off to see the sights with her husband, Nitin, and father, G.H. Liathiwala.

Me, I headed to Carmine's, the landmark Italian restaurant on West 44th Street, for a heaping plate of penne vodka. Sure, Carmine's is a little pricey. But I'd just saved the company a ton of money on bus fare. It was time to party.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

MORE OPTIONS

Here are some other options for taking the bus to New York. Most buses offer drop-off locations in Manhattan.

MVP, 888-687-2871 or mvpbus.com. Picks up at Baltimore's Station North neighborhood (1910 N. Charles St.). Offers free overnight parking nearby. $20 each way or $35 round trip.

Apex Bus, 888-988-2739 or apexbus.com. Picks up in the vicinity of the Baltimore Travel Plaza. $20 each way or $35 round trip.

Hunt Valley Motor Coach, 410-584-7377 or huntvalleymotorcoach.com. Picks up at several locations, including Pikesville and Carney. $55 round trip for same-day service; $100 for round-trip service on separate days; no one-way service.

Information: To make reservations for a variety of bus lines, go to buszoo.com or gotobus.com.

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