Gas Busters Bus Battles Round 1: Boston to New York

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The route from Boston to New York can be traveled by plane, train or automobile. But for those on a budget, the bus is the cheapest ticket.

And while the $65, or so, that Peter Pan charges for roundtrip travel, is about half of what Amtrak's Acela express train will cost you for one way, there are some options that are even cheaper.

For $15 each way travelers can avoid the tolls and high cost of gas. The only trade-off is taking a leap of faith with the inconsistent safety records of the two Chinatown-based bus lines that are offering this cheap-o rate.

The rival bus lines–Fung Wah Bus Transportation, Inc. and Lucky Star Travel Pack–are no secret to folks traveling on a tight budget. Fung Wah arrived first in 1998 to connect the Chinatowns in New York and Boston. Lucky Star came along in August of 2005, initially offering Boston/New York riders a $10 deal.

To some, prize is worth the price: On the website Yelp.com–a site where people can rate products ranging from restaurants to bus lines– user "Wren R." put her decision in simple terms: "Boston and back for $30? Sold. I don't care how rickety the bus is, how off-putting the employees can be, or how much random stuff happens. It's 30-freaking-dollars!"

Cheap or no, safety has been an issue for both lines. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Fung Wah's 2007 driver safety rating was 95. The rating system is based on a 100 point scale, in which 100 points is the worst rating. (Lucky Star's rating in 2007 was 63.)

Still, at the far end of the South Station Bus Terminal in Boston, the rival bus lines slugging it out every day. From opposite counters, rival representatives cry, ''Ticket to New York!" And now there is a new bus on the block–the Greyhound-owned BoltBus which began March 27th.

For an extra $2.50, riders on BoltBus enjoy more leg-room, a cleaner atmosphere, and wireless internet access. So far, so good reports Yelp.com user Ben C.: “I hate buses and BoltBus practically takes the bus out of bus, if you know what I mean. Much cheaper alternative if you typically take Amtrak like I do ... or did.”

Will BoltBus make life more difficult for the two Chinatown bus lines? Only time will tell. Here is the tale of the tape so far:

FUNG WAH

WHAT IT COSTS: $30 roundtrip from New York City (Chinatown) to Boston (South Station).
PROS: Inexpensive. Riders don’t have to deal with the Port Authority Bus Terminal: The Chinatown location in New York is located only blocks away from the subway.
CONS: Poor safety record. Don’t sit near the bathroom. Drivers frequently yap on their cell phone for hours. Prepare to eat less-than gourmet Chinese food at the one rest-stop between New York and Boston. Instead of stopping at a Burger King outside of Hartford, Fung Wah stops at a Chinese Buffet.

LUCKY STAR
WHAT IT COSTS: $30 roundtrip from New York City (Chinatown) to Boston (South Station).
PROS: Same as Fung Wah – inexpensive. Does not stop at the Chinese Buffet – takes one rest stop at a Connecticut Burger King.
CONS: Stops at a Connecticut Burger King. Safety record only slightly better than Fung Wah’s.

BOLTBUS
WHAT IT COSTS: $35 roundtrip from New York City (Midtown) to Boston (South Station). Cheaper if you book online weeks in advance.
PROS: Clean, new buses. Free wireless internet for laptops – roughly 2/3 of the seats are equipped with electric outlets. More leg room. Better safety record than the Chinatown lines. The earlier you book, the cheaper the ticket.
CONS: $5 more than the Chinatown lines (for a last minute ticket). For a window view, be sure that your seat is not one of the few towards the front where the windows are covered with little dots (to form the "bolt" design on the outside of the bus). No rest stops. (But this might be a pro if you’ve ever been to the Chinese Buffet).


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