Besides driving a car, travel to New York City from Albany has long been dominated by Amtrak (train) and Greyhound (bus). The close proximity of the two cities has made it a toss-up as far as whether driving to the city is more cost effective than taking public or alternative transportation. All Over Albany had a great post earlier this year that compared various routes and methods one has when choosing a preferred travel situation. While perhaps a little out-of-date considering gas is now hovering around $1.80/gallon instead of their then-standard of $3.30/gallon, we can still see that even though a bit cheaper, driving to the city or drive/train mixtures still carry a fairly unpredicatable travel time.
After trying a bunch of ways to get to the city over the past few years, I found that my favorite was driving to either Suffern, NY or Ramsey, NJ to take the NJTransit train to the PATH train to the city. This route carried a perfect balance of proximity to a major turnpike, cost and time to the city.
Starting on December 3rd, 2008, the Megabus moved into the Capital Region; changing the landscape of all of our future travels to New York City. Boasting a direct trip (no stops) and fares as low as $1 per trip ($.50 reservation fee), one could possibly take this trip for $2.50 total – trumping any previous option by an embarrassing percentile with maximum comfort, to boot.
The Megabus company started overseas in 2003 and promptly announced one year later that they had served over one million passengers. Their business model rewards customers who purchase tickets for their trips early, offering the first few comers $1 fares. Branching into the U.S. via the midwest began in 2006, where the company set up shop in Chicago, offering daily trips to major cities in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and more. Their next move in the U.S. was to the West Coast in 2007, setting up hubs in San Francisco, Los Angeles and a few other major cities on that side. However, witness this lesson; the Megabus giveth, and the Megabus taketh away – ALL WEST COAST TRAVEL WAS DISCONTINUED WITHIN MONTHS OF STARTING SERVICE DUE TO RIDERSHIP TRENDS NOT INCREASING .
Their East Coast adventure began in May of 2008, kicking off with NYC being the major point of travel. Cities such as Baltimore, Washington DC, Hartford, Philadelphia and Boston all have routes connecting to NYC; Penn Station specifically. When waiting to catch the Megabus back to Albany on December 20, it was obvious to see the popularity of the Boston and DC routes as the lines snaked in huge coils until the carriages came to take these folks home. Unfortunately the Albany bus only carried a mere ten passengers, similar to the trip down. Let’s hope that the Megabus folks will not cancel the Albany->NYC route as quickly as they did the six month stint to Binghamton.
HOW TO RIDE THE MEGABUS FROM ALBANY -> NYC
1. Make Your Reservation: As soon as you have your dates planned to travel to NYC, visit the Megabus website or call 877-GO2-MEGA (877-462-6342). In order to secure the cheapest rates possible, you must reserve seats at least a month or two in advance. When I first heard about the Megabus in late November, I looked to book my December trip (Dec. 17th – 20th) immediately. Fares were $10-$11 each way at that point, but I delayed purchasing tickets until the first week of December. By then, the 12/17 trip cost $26 and the return trip on 12/20 cost $19. With the increased fares ($45.50 total), I still got quite a deal on an excellent trip that allowed me to relax while someone else did the driving.
2. Arrive On Time: the Megabus folks request that you arrive at least 15 minutes before your bus is scheduled to leave. From what I witnessed, this is definitely true. Both bus rides left promptly at the scheduled departure time and apparently did not wait for any stragglers!
3. Locate the Pickup Spot: NOTE: Do NOT ask the Amtrak folks where the Megabus picks up, they are likely to give you a shrug or non-answer such as “Oh I don’t know where it could pick up, it can’t even come up into the terminal. Wouldn’t want anyone to miss their bus…” like they offered to me with a sad frown in their eyes. The Megabus description of the stop is fairly accurate:
“Arrivals and departures are located near the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station on the west side of East Street, just south of Herrick Street.” In layman’s terms – pretend you are walking directly OUT of the bus terminal and walk straight over the cross-walks down to the next street. This is East Street. You will see a CDTA bus stop directly in front of you and a red brick Hose Company building to your left.
Arrivals and departures are located at the North Surface parking lot off of East St. The entrance to the lot is located on East St., just north of Wendell St. Parking is available in the surface lots adjacent to the stop.
Wait there for the Megabus… it WILL arrive, despite not having any signage or marking that it will pick up there.
3. Bring Your Laptop, Charged: Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. The buses are equipped with WI-FI! I could correct that and say “intermittent” WI-FI, but I’ll just say that it was nice to be able to check my email occasionally throughout the trips. Beware MySpace fiends – the source of your addiction is blocked, along with YouTube and a few other “social networks”. Facebook seemed to work OK when the WI-FI was working. I could complain about the spotty service, but it’s an honorable start to what I believe will be improved service over time. Oh, and no AC plugs could be found on the buses I rode, so make sure your internet device is fully charged when expecting to ride out that 2:45 trip.
(Note: I’ve since read that some of the buses are now arriving with outlets on the side of each seat… haven’t experienced it myself yet, but, it’s possible you may have power available to you when you travel on the Megabus!)
4. Expect to Be a Little Late: If you are looking for precise arrival times to NYC, this option may not be what you’re looking for. For the trip down, the departure was exactly on time: 2:30PM, however the arrival to Penn Station was more like 5:45 instead of the expected 5:15PM. The traffic at that hour was insane, so I’d say it was in no fault to the company or the driver… more of typical NYC travel woes. The ride home was approximately 15 minutes late arriving to the Amtrak station, but one could chalk that up to the fairly inclement weather that dropped upon the northeast that weekend. It’s not an exact science yet, so be prepared for a little wiggle-room on the arrivals.
5. Bring Snacks: Since there are no scheduled stops between Albany and NYC, come ready with snacks and water to tide you over.
6. Tell a Friend: Better yet, bring them along for the ride! At 1/20th the cost of riding the train or catching a Greyhound, you can treat a whole crew of folks to a fun jaunt to the city. Companies such as Megabus rely on word-of-mouth promotion in order to make their business flourish. Saving on massive ad campaigns and promotions allows them to offer such insanely low prices. Please, spread the word!