At MIT, New York City Is in Your Backyard

Navigating your transit options for weekend trips
MAR 2019
Erika
A.
Biological Engineering

It was a Friday at 10:30am, and I was behind schedule to catch my bus to New York City. I rushed from the Red Line T stop at South Station to the bus terminal, annoyed that my rolling suitcase prevented me from running up the escalators. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. The Megabus area was in chaos as usual; one of the buses had been taken offline because of an engine problem, so they were trying to fit all the morning NYC passengers onto whatever buses were available. A driver ushered me onto the 10am bus, which still hadn’t left and which didn’t have any open seats. Instead, he moved his personal duffle bag off of a tiny upholstered bench right up front. I perched awkwardly on it. There was no space for my legs, and no power outlet for my phone. There I sat for five and a half hours, enjoying a front-seat view of the bus driver yelling at taxis and nearly hitting a poor woman on a Bluebike. When we arrived at Penn Station, I uncurled from my perch, shook out my legs, and made my way into the city.

The New York City weekend trip is a staple of life in Boston. Drew Houston, a MIT alum who founded Dropbox, often recounts that Dropbox was founded when he stepped on a Chinatown bus to NYC and realized he’d forgotten his thumb drive. And indeed, I feel Drew’s pain: wifi reliability has become one of several key metrics I look at when deciding how to get to NYC. Here’s a rundown of your three options: bus, train, or plane.

BUS OPTIONS

Taking a bus to NYC can often be an adventure in itself. This is the cheapest, slowest, least-reliable option. But if you know a little bit about how the buses work and which bus routes are good, it’s totally possible to have a pleasant experience.

Megabus (also Peter Pan, and other low-price leaders)

  • Cost: $1 or $5 tickets one-way can be booked three months in advance with a $2.50 booking fee; for $10 you can get round trip tickets for every weekend of the month and then just not take the ones you don’t end up wanting. Wanderu is a good bus ticket aggregator site for booking low-cost tickets across multiple bus carriers. If you book the tickets day-of, they can cost upwards of $65.
  • What’s it like: Megabuses tend to be very crowded and are often horribly delayed. Oh, and they sometimes break down or catch fire.
  • The wifi: Megabus wifi is unreliable (can cut out frequently). The seat power outlets sometimes don’t work.
  • The route: Megabus will pick you up and drop you off at South Station, which is a short Red Line ride away from MIT. Megabus will drop you off at Penn Station in NYC. This means that the bus can spend 30 min - 1.5 hours just driving through downtown Manhattan traffic. And finally, danger danger! Megabus will pick you up on the side of the road in Chelsea, not at Penn Station!

Total trip time: 5-6 hours.
Round Trip cost: $5+

Greyhound Buses

  • Cost: Tickets for Greyhound are usually $20 one way if you book in advance, and up to $50 day-of. Greyhound tickets can be exchanged up to the day before at a Greyhound station. I’ll frequently book round trip tickets in advance and then adjust my return ticket when I depart Boston.
  • What it’s like: Greyhound buses are usually in good repair. Boston-NYC buses are often not very crowded; you often can have two seats to yourself for at least half the ride.
  • The wifi: Wifi will sometimes kick you off, and you’ll need to log in again. You almost certainly will have access to a functional outlet.
  • The route: The best-kept NYC bus secret is the George Washington Bridge Bus Station. Rather than driving all the way to Penn station, the bus will drop you off just north of Manhattan, 4 minutes from an A train station at 175th street that can get you wherever you’re going in 30 minutes. By avoiding downtown Manhattan traffic, this bus takes about 4 to 4.5 hours predictably, unlike other buses that are subject to the whims of downtown traffic. Note that Greyhound buses departing NYC → Boston usually pick up under the bridge, outside the station.

Total trip time: 4-5 hours.
Round Trip cost: $40-$100

TRAIN OPTIONS

Amtrak is generally a great experience: it’s less nauseating than a bus, the wifi is better, it’s less cramped, there’s a snack car. Also trains!! The downside is that it’s not dirt cheap like a bus. In fact, it ends up being about the same cost as flying (but more luxurious!).

Amtrak

  • Cost: $49 one-way for the Northeast Regional if you book in advance.
  • Also bonus cost tip: Amtrak has two different credit cards that will help you earn Amtrak points. The one with no annual fee is called the ‘Amtrak Guest Reward Platinum Mastercard,’ which has a 12,000 point signing bonus. One-way, a Northeast Regional is 2,795 points, so the signing bonus alone is worth about 4 one-way rides. After that, you get 1 point per $1, so it doesn’t pile up that fast unless you pay your rent via credit card.
  • What it’s like: You probably want to ride in the quiet car of Amtrak. Upgrading to first class is a bad idea. You’ll be seated in a car that’s more crowded, and people will talk on their phones.
  • The wifi: Is usable, but slow and cuts out occasionally. There are outlets by every seat.
  • The route: Acela is vastly more expensive than the Northeast Regional, and not very much faster.

Total trip time (Northeast regional): 4.5-5 hours.
Round trip cost: $100+

FLIGHT OPTIONS

Flying is the most expensive way to get to NYC, and only the fastest by a hair’s breadth. It also comes complete with a pat-down, confiscation of all your liquids over 3 oz, a tiny bag of airplane peanuts, and 90 minutes inside a tin can.

  • Cost: One-way, a flight costs $65-$100, depending on where you book.
  • Timing: Flying efficiently is all about timing. With TSA pre ($85), and a good understanding of the missed flight policies of your airline, you can make flying extremely time-efficient by cutting it close. My friend managed to get door-to-door from a NYC midtown apartment to a Harvard square apartment in 3 hours once, although 4 hours is more typical. American and Jetblue both have flights that leave hourly. If you miss the flight you booked, you can ask to be put on standby for the next flight at no charge on both airlines.
  • What it’s like: I personally find flying a bit too hectic for a trip this short: on the bus or train you get a solid four-plus hours of sitting quietly, whereas when you fly you spend that same time getting to and from the airport and going through security.
  • The wifi: Check your airline. Jetblue has free wifi; American has day passes for $16.
  • The route: An UberX from Kendall to Boston Logan airport will cost ~$15 and take 20 minutes. You can also take the Red+Silver lines to the airport, which will take 30-40 minutes and cost $2.50. I usually split the difference, budget a little extra time, and take Uber pool.

Total trip time: ~4 hours
Round trip cost: $130-$200 if you book at least two weeks in advance

I often think that Boston is exactly the right distance from NYC: close enough to be accessible, far enough that I won’t be constantly distracted by events in the big city. In graduate school, it’s important to maintain balance. Get out of lab! Go somewhere and try something new! With a good understanding of how to get to NYC, the Big Apple can be your weekend playground.