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jul 10 2008

The long-haul bus trip from hell

If you travel up and down the East Coast between Washington, D.C., and Boston, you may have taken one of the many buses that run between the big cities' Chinatowns. Or you may wonder how they are. I’ve been a fan of the buses for some time, but they are not without their flaws.

My wife and I took a New Today bus from New York to D.C. on July 4 without incident, but the trip back (on Sunday, July 6) was rough. We arrived half an hour early, as advised, only to find about six busloads of people already waiting. (Not all of them were waiting for New Today buses; another company picks up passengers at the same place.) Some had been there for several hours. Each time a bus would come, a mob of people would rush to the door. Then the people at the back would start to push forward. It was hard enough to unload the buses, let alone get on one.

This was all very amusing until it started to rain. Hard. I don’t blame the bus company for the fact that I didn’t have an umbrella, but because of the crowds and the pushing even the people with umbrellas were getting soaked.

Eventually, someone called the police, and several officers arrived to provide much-needed crowd control. But of course the police could not conjure more buses.

We got on a bus about two and a half hours after our scheduled time (with some people who said they had been waiting for five hours), but the adventure wasn’t over. When we got to New York, the driver headed north from Midtown. When I asked where we were going, he said that the destination was 88th Street and Broadway. I explained that we needed to go to 88 E. Broadway, in Chinatown—about 95 blocks south from 88th.

A woman named Annie at the New York office said that New Today’s buses was running behind on Sunday because of holiday weekend traffic, which the rain only exacerbated. She also said that New Today had chartered other bus companies for the D.C.-New York route to resolve the problem, and that the driver of my bus must have misunderstood where he was supposed to go.

I don’t think New Today is worse than the other Chinatown bus companies, and they’re all preferable to Greyhound. But this experience did give me pause, and my wife says the lesson is that we shouldn’t travel on a holiday weekend.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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