Planes, Trains and Automobiles… and Buses?

There’s an enormous amount of choice right now, when it comes to the best way to travel short distances, like for instance the distance I travel when I come back to Washington, DC twice a month.  I think I’ve now done the trip every which way but by boat, although I’m considering my options now as I’ll soon embark on my very first cruise.Of the mediums, I don’t think I’ve found one I prefer more than the train.  I don’t take the silky Acela train, I take the very ordinary but perfectly comfortable Amtrak from New York’s Penn Station to Washington’s Union Station.  That’s the longest leg of the trip but not the only leg of the trip.  And so if there’s a part of this ride that makes it slightly less desirable, it’s that in order to get my three and a half glorious hours on the choo choo, I must first rely on Jaime to drive me to the train station, hop aboard the Long Island Railroad for an hour to commute into the City, and then once I’ve concluded my Amtrak service, I’ll need to take the metro or a taxi in DC to my final destination.  Ignoring for a moment the number of different transportation means it takes to be able to use Amtrak, I really do favor Amtrak as it has the biggest upside – I can travel during business hours and hardly lose one minute of productivity.  I can be connected for the duration of the trip and unless I’m on the dictatorial quiet car, I might be able to conduct the exact same amount of business using the train as I would sitting behind my desk.  The downside is that for the amount of time it still takes to make this commute, the price does not reflect a very good value.  If one is able to book train tickets far enough in advance, there’s value to be had, but otherwise it can often cost as much as air travel.

Air travel is another means to get to DC that has a lot of upside.  The transfer itself is possibly the quickest if you only consider you’re in the air for under an hour.  But there are a few glitches with that reasoning.  For one, getting to an airport which serves Washington’s most convenient access point, Reagan National Airport, means an hour’s drive to Laguardia.  You also must leave an hour to check in and get through security.  And then there’s time on the backend to pick up luggage if there’s been luggage checked.  Summing up all that ancillary time, and we are now roughly equivalent to using the train and for the same price.  If I’m lucky enough to fly out of Macarthur Airport in Islip, which is a short drive from my house, I can get a lower priced ticket, but I’m left flying to BWI – and that means a longer commute once I’m in the Washington area.  Couple that with the biggest down side – I’m not connected while I’m flying – and air travel has as much pain as it does gain.

I’ve also made the drive so many times I can do it in my sleep and for some stretches of highway I’m hard pressed to remember, I think I must have.  No question this has the biggest downside – a lack of real connectivity while driving (don’t let me catch you e-mailing while you drive), the possibility of traffic delays in addition to it being the slowest medium means the longest stretch.  Parking is not inexpensive either, nor is fuel.  And in fact the only real upside to driving is the flexibility of having one’s car once in Washington.  Sometimes appointments can be scattered about Maryland and Virginia where the car would present a real advantage over trying to get everywhere by metro.  If I use the car, I try to drive at non peak, non business hours, in order to make my trip the most efficient.

Finally there’s one mode of transportation I’ve taken only once and the jury is still out as to whether I’ll take it again.  That’s the bus.  There are now several options that stretch beyond the traditional Greyhound bus service which has always served New York’s Port Authority and Washington’s Union Station.  There’s now the Bolt Bus, the MegaBus and a number of other discount bus operators.  One might surmise from seeing prices as low as $1 one way that this might be a less than luxurious way to transfer.  Do not prejudge!  These buses are in very good condition and are generally quite reliable.  The biggest challenge for me is that it affords you half the space you might find on an Amtrak train and the trip is notably longer because it travels through unpredictable traffic.  Furthermore, there’s little ability to work comfortably and it still requires adding on another mode of transportation once the trip is through.  So far as I can tell the only true advantage here is cost.

I’m looking forward to appending this blog once I’ve figured out the best way to negotiate this trip by sea.  In the meantime, you may catch me on the Amtrak nearest you!

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