The Downside of Low-Cost Buses
by Graham T. Beck
18 Sep 2008
On a recent Wednesday evening, Erin Brown waited for the Fung Wah bus to Boston with a dozen or so other people on a crowded Canal Street sidewalk. "It's such a crush - the people, the vendors, the cars, narrow sidewalks, narrow streets. I don't know why they leave from here, but the price is right," she said.
Brown is not alone in her sentiment. It often feels as though every inch of Chinatown is jam-packed. Cars clogs street from the Manhattan Bridge to the Holland Tunnel. Sidewalks overflow with tourists, workers and neighborhood residents. Stalls spill out from shops, and lately it seems that every few blocks there is a line of 20 or so people queuing up for an interstate bus.
The buses are nothing new. Since 1998, companies like Fung Wah, using spaces reserved for tour buses or agreed upon spots in the neighborhood, have run curbside operations, picking up and dropping off passengers. The recent surge in travel costs, though, has made more outfits see the benefits of such a low-overhead way of doing business. This means more buses jamming city streets and curbsides and more bus queues on already crowded sidewalks.
It has reached the point, according to City Councilmember Alan Gerson, where there now are more interstate bus pick-ups and drop-offs in Chinatown each day than there are at the Port Authority. Although the competition has driven down prices for travelers, it has created some difficult situations for neighborhood residents, passing pedestrians and local businesses.
September 26, 2008
Jet Set, Meet the Bus Bunch
By TRACIE ROZHON
KENNY BASCOM stood near the steering wheel of his BoltBus, just about to leave from West 33rd Street in Manhattan, bound for Washington. He called his passengers to attention.
"Can I put a rule in?" he asked. "This bus doesn't move unless you smile. And here's another thing: You got cellphones? Use 'em."
There was a buzz of disbelief.
Use the cellphones? Plug in the laptops! Chat with your fellow passengers and laugh - guilt-free - with a friendly driver at the helm and very comfortable seats all around you.
All for $25 or less, sometimes much less, depending on when you reserve. B.Y.O.F. (bring your own food).
Starting about a dozen years ago with the so-called Chinatown buses, which were the first to offer a minimum of frills (and schedules), Route I-95 between Boston and Washington has become jammed with cheap express buses with jazzy names and the design and Web sites to match: BoltBus (online, tap a key and watch lightning strike!), Megabus (a huge, cherubic driver is emblazoned on the side of the bus), DC2NY, Washington Deluxe and others.
Capitalizing on the success of those first Chinatown buses, the big boys got into the business - BoltBus is owned by Greyhound, and Megabus by a large Scottish transportation company, Stagecoach Group, through its subsidiary Coach USA. As the companies refine their service, the cheap express bus experience just keeps changing, competing to offer amenities: BoltBus now offers plugs for electrical appliances; Washington Deluxe has just added Dupont Circle to its list of Washington stops.
Judging by a recent round trip from New York to Washington - down on BoltBus, back on Megabus - the changes are being seen and, for the most part, appreciated by the passengers, a surprisingly diverse group.