Why on Earth do people drive from DC to NYC?

by Sonny Bunch on January 22, 2012

It has been a while since I’ve driven from DC to NYC; for the past five years or so I’ve traveled almost exclusively by Bolt Bus and Megabus. Traveling up that way for a wedding (congrats, Tom and Amy!*), I was struck by how insanely expensive it was. A breakdown of the costs:

  • $3 toll to take the Baltimore tunnel;
  • $4 to enter Delaware;
  • $4 to exit Delaware**;
  • $12 for the NJ Turnpike;
  • $12 for the Lincoln tunnel.

Of course, you get hit with all those tolls except the last one on the way back. Total: $58. Then there’s gas. Google Maps puts the distance between DC and NYC at a little over 450 miles. Let’s be generous and say that you can average 28 miles per gallon (I averaged 28.5, with absolutely no traffic). At the national average of $3.39 a gallon (unlikely in this region, but whatever), the 16 gallons you’ll use will add another $54 or so in gas costs. That’s $112, total.

$112! For the pleasure of sitting behind the wheel and driving, instead of being able to relax on a comfortable bus and read or get some work done or just sleep. (And that doesn’t even include costs for parking, feeding meters, etc.)

Compare that to Bolt Bus, on which I can get a one-way ticket next weekend for an average of about $20. So let’s say $40 round trip. If I’m traveling with another person, that’s $80. For it to make economic sense to drive instead of take the bus, you have to travel with two extra passengers, assuming you split the cost equally. And even then it’s a very, very marginal savings.

Honestly, I don’t understand why people drive instead of taking the bus. Sure, sometimes it makes sense — if you have very young children, maybe, or have to travel with a dog. Or if there’s five or six of you jammed into a car. But for your average weekend getaway? Bolt Bus represents an absolute triumph of capitalism*** — a niche perfectly filled by a wily entrepreneur. I’m surprised more efforts haven’t been made by busybody regulators to kill this miracle.

*True story: Without Tom’s helpful meddling, my wife and I might not have gotten together. But that’s a story for another day. (For the record, the wedding was in Newark; the numbers I’m using are for a trip to NYC proper.)

**Screw you, Delaware.

***Granted, it’s economical in large part because of government interference (i.e., tolls). But still!

(Photo by paranoidnotandroid)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian January 22, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I bet the vast majority of people who are going point-to-point, and who will stay in/near Manhattan, travel by train or bus. I suspect the drivers are people who are going through NYC, or who are using the city as a base of operations, or who are – as mentioned – trucking rugrats.

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Randy December 18, 2012 at 11:57 am

You are missing some of the costs. How does one get to the Bolt or similar bus, unless you happen to live where it stops? If you live in the city, that’s great. If you don’t, then you still have to get there. And what do you do with your car while you are away? You have to pay to park. Metro doesn’t allow long term parking so you can’t use that. I am going up there this week and figured it out and I am saving money by driving. Since the only way to get to the bus is a $60 cab ride (each way) or use the MARC train with its very limited hours and then that’s a little cheaper than the cab. But you still need to use a cab to get back to your car on the weekend.

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Sonny Bunch December 18, 2012 at 11:59 am

If you don’t live in DC proper then yes, it doesn’t make as much sense.

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