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Datepalm

Public Transport in AMERICA

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I mean, what??? Why???

What may be termed hands-on exploration of the role of competition in public transport provision being both a sort of expression of my worst self-destructive tendencies and, well, what I'm apparently planning on spending the next five years researching, this all came together during an innocent attempt to figure out how one gets from Boston, Massachussetts (a sizeable city, I have heard) to Washington, DC (another city, it appears). It is perhaps preferable to connect through New York (perhaps this - also a city, it claims on the Wikipedia - constitutes a regional hub of some sort?)

Who on earth pays 100$ for a Boston-NY train trip? There can't possibly be an adequate demand for this. Why are there seven different bus operators but no standardized fares for a three-hour trip between two major metropolises? (I know why, you don't literally need to tell me why, I'm just saying...why!?) Am I doing something stupid and should just say fuck it to my weird stubborn insistence on always using ground transport and just get a flight? Is spending a couple of hours waiting for connecting night buses somewhere in NY, like, a really bad idea? (I admit my mental image of NY swings sharply between soulless hyper-gentrification and an 80's post-apocalyptic movie.)

How do locals do this? (Drive. I assume its drive. Good god, is the best option to rent a car?)

(I'm also trying to get to Ann Arbor later in the same trip...I assume taking public transport in this instance is simply a complicated way to become an exciting US violence statistic.)

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I have always been shocked at the level of public transport every time I’ve been to the US. Compared to much of Europe it feels like something out of the apocalypse! The trains seem older than time, the buses are an afterthought. 

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Once, in the dim past, the US boasted a rather impressive railway network and an abundance of streetcar lines in most cities and towns.  They were systematically taken over and destroyed by the 'oil-rubber alliance' (oil/auto companies) to promote highway travel.  Subdivisions were redesigned to separate work and residence and shopping. 

 

To this day, a certain US political party regards the very concept of 'public transportation' with complete loathing, and seeks its destruction at every opportunity. 

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I don’t know, the Subway in New York’s pretty good. I’d say it’s not quite as good as the tube in London but it’s significantly cheaper. Public transport in San Francisco’s not bad, it’s a little bit confusing with all the street cars and stuff but once you work it out you can get around fairly easily. I imagine in areas with less population density it’s less good though. 

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Datepalm said:

I mean, what??? Why???

What may be termed hands-on exploration of the role of competition in public transport provision being both a sort of expression of my worst self-destructive tendencies and, well, what I'm apparently planning on spending the next five years researching, this all came together during an innocent attempt to figure out how one gets from Boston, Massachussetts (a sizeable city, I have heard) to Washington, DC (another city, it appears). It is perhaps preferable to connect through New York (perhaps this - also a city, it claims on the Wikipedia - constitutes a regional hub of some sort?)

Who on earth pays 100$ for a Boston-NY train trip? There can't possibly be an adequate demand for this. Why are there seven different bus operators but no standardized fares for a three-hour trip between two major metropolises? (I know why, you don't literally need to tell me why, I'm just saying...why!?) Am I doing something stupid and should just say fuck it to my weird stubborn insistence on always using ground transport and just get a flight? Is spending a couple of hours waiting for connecting night buses somewhere in NY, like, a really bad idea? (I admit my mental image of NY swings sharply between soulless hyper-gentrification and an 80's post-apocalyptic movie.)

How do locals do this? (Drive. I assume its drive. Good god, is the best option to rent a car?)

(I'm also trying to get to Ann Arbor later in the same trip...I assume taking public transport in this instance is simply a complicated way to become an exciting US violence statistic.)


I don't think I understand the question. You want to know why a train between the two is expensive? I mean, the US is big. Boston to DC 439 miles. That's more than the horizontal width of England or Germany. (Vertical they are bigger, but not by all that much.) How much would that train trip cost? That said, I do think trains here are weirdly expensive compared to planes for what you get.

You have some options. One is a train; that's certainly an option. I have ridden a long-distance train exactly once, and it was last month, precisely because planes usually make more sense where I'm going.

You could get a plane. It looks like that would be a little costlier but you'd spend less time in transit. On the other hand, you need to show up earlier for a plane.

Lastly, there are some low-cost bus services that operate in this region, outside of large services like Greyhound. Megabus offers a Boston-DC trip. I just priced it out for next month and their website says it would be $30. I've never done Megabus but it's a normal thing here. Downsides: It's a bit over 10 hours, and it's overnight (depart Boston 11:45pm, arrive DC 10:05am). But it's $30! I am given to understand that Megabus is pretty no-frills but offers stuff like power outlets at your seat. (Amtrak does this as well.)

Lastly, yes, you could rent a car. The driving in downtown Boston can suck and driving in DC proper is a pain in the ass, but for the most part you'd be on highways and it's easy driving. It is about seven and a half hours not counting a stop for lunch or whatever, which is very doable, but if you aren't accustomed to driving long distances this option may not be as good. It will definitely cost you more than Megabus for the rental and gas, but should be markedly less than a train or a plane.

Boston and DC both have decent intra-city transit options.

Why are you trying to do this? Is this a trip you are actually planning to take?

As for how locals do it, I would probably not drive between Boston and DC, mainly because driving and parking in those cities is a hassle and you don't need a car once you're there. Given the option i would probably fly because the time in transit is much lower than the other options, but I could see a train as well. I don't like red-eye travel options, so an overnight bus trip is not very appealing to me.

Edited by Inigima

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2 minutes ago, Inigima said:


I don't think I understand the question. You want to know why a train between the two is expensive? I mean, the US is big. Boston to DC 439 miles. That's more than the horizontal width of England or Germany. (Vertical they are bigger, but not by all that much.) How much would that train trip cost?



But Datepalm specified a train trip between NY and Boston and while 150 miles is still quite far, 100 dollars for that is absurdly expensive. London to Manchester- a roughly equivalent journey in the UK- costs just shy of 30 quid, or roughly 40 dollars. My regular return trips from university in Middlesbrough- about 200 miles from home- would cost 100 pounds return. Berlin to Hamburg- also about 150 miles- costs 45 Euros, roughly 50 dollars (I'm quite surprised that such a journey costs less in the UK than Germany actually).
In other words, 100 dollars for the specified trip is a lot.

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ETA - reponse to lkJeane.

Most US cities do run their local transit on a more reasonable centralized basis (level of provision then being a choice rather than a market outcome then way it - apparently - is at the intercity level) but I hadn't realized it was quite such a clusterfuck at the megalopolitan scale of somewhere with the level of density and demand of Boston-NY-DC. Naive.

Edited by Datepalm

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7 minutes ago, polishgenius said:



But Datepalm specified a train trip between NY and Boston and while 150 miles is still quite far, 100 dollars for that is absurdly expensive. London to Manchester- a roughly equivalent journey in the UK- costs just shy of 30 quid, or roughly 40 dollars. My regular return trips from university in Middlesbrough- about 200 miles from home- would cost 100 pounds return. Berlin to Hamburg- also about 150 miles- costs 45 Euros, roughly 50 dollars (I'm quite surprised that such a journey costs less in the UK than Germany actually).
In other words, 100 dollars for the specified trip is a lot.

No she didn't. She mentioned connecting through NY, but the trip she's quoting out is Boston to DC.

EDIT: Also, $100 is the price she quoted to NY, not DC. I just quoted Boston to DC via Amtrak (train) and a ticket can be had for $79. The trip is roughly 8 hours.

EDIT 2: Amtrak also quotes a lowest-fare price of $49 from Boston (South Station) to NYC (Penn Station), not $100. Boston to NY is about 200 miles and the trip is about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Edited by Inigima

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3 minutes ago, Inigima said:

No she didn't. She mentioned connecting through NY, but the trip she's quoting out is Boston to DC.

 

 

Quote

Who on earth pays 100$ for a Boston-NY train trip?




Eta: your quoted fares are much more reasonable and in line with the ones over here in which case, fair enough.


I have to say, although I've never been to the US myself, people I know who have have always had the opposite experience to Datepalm: intra-city travel is okay via public transport, as long as you're only connecting major hubs, but the finer details in the local areas are rubbish.  America is the only place that my dad, who travels a lot all over the world and makes it a point to do things the public transport way, as free of obligation/structure as possible, will regularly rent a car.

Edited by polishgenius

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I recently took a similar trip and ended up paying more than 120$ for a one-way train ticket from Boston to New York, which is insane compared to Europe.

Regarding the city public transport, Boston's was OK, as was Chicago's. NYC subway system made me feel like I time-travelled to 1960's. In other major cities I visited (Dallas, Charlotte, Orlando, St.Louis, Nashville, Albuquerque) rent-a-car was the only reasonable option for getting around.

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4 minutes ago, polishgenius said:

 

 

 

Jesus Christ, read the post:

2 hours ago, Datepalm said:

What may be termed hands-on exploration of the role of competition in public transport provision being both a sort of expression of my worst self-destructive tendencies and, well, what I'm apparently planning on spending the next five years researching, this all came together during an innocent attempt to figure out how one gets from Boston, Massachussetts (a sizeable city, I have heard) to Washington, DC (another city, it appears). It is perhaps preferable to connect through New York (perhaps this - also a city, it claims on the Wikipedia - constitutes a regional hub of some sort?)

Also, the fare she quoted is wrong unless there is something specific about the date of her trip messing things up. Alternatively, she may be looking at the Acela (a faster train), which is more expensive than a standard train ticket.

Edited by Inigima

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2 minutes ago, polishgenius said:

But Datepalm specified a train trip between NY and Boston and while 150 miles is still quite far, 100 dollars for that is absurdly expensive. London to Manchester- a roughly equivalent journey in the UK- costs just shy of 30 quid, or roughly 40 dollars. My regular return trips from university in Middlesbrough- about 200 miles from home- would cost 100 pounds return. Berlin to Hamburg- also about 150 miles- costs 45 Euros, roughly 50 dollars (I'm quite surprised that such a journey costs less in the UK than Germany actually).
In other words, 100 dollars for the specified trip is a lot.

Yeah, it's 100-120 USD for Amtrack, at a quick glance, for Boston-NY. It's not just the distance, it's also the connectivity level for two huge cities that makes this look ridiculous to me. (And of course a comically different price point from similar services in Europe.)

Buses are probably a better option, though I would rather connect through New York. Aside from preferring two 4-hourish trips to one 7 hour one, it offers more flexibility and actually comes out cheaper via some options - dynamic pricing for a metropolitan bus trip seems like a bad joke to me, but there you go. Having to order bus tickets months in advance to get a good price strikes me as almost a form of indignity, but apparently you all somehow live with it!

I mean, analyzing public transport policy is literally my job, I know why the US systems is as fucked up as it is. This thread is partially outrage, partially curiousity, and partially seeing if there's some trick I'm missing.

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1 minute ago, Datepalm said:

Yeah, it's 100-120 USD for Amtrack, at a quick glance, for Boston-NY. It's not just the distance, it's also the connectivity level for two huge cities that makes this look ridiculous to me. (And of course a comically different price point from similar services in Europe.)

Buses are probably a better option, though I would rather connect through New York. Aside from preferring two 4-hourish trips to one 7 hour one, it offers more flexibility and actually comes out cheaper via some options - dynamic pricing for a metropolitan bus trip seems like a bad joke to me, but there you go. Having to order bus tickets months in advance to get a good price strikes me as almost a form of indignity, but apparently you all somehow live with it!

I mean, analyzing public transport policy is literally my job, I know why the US systems is as fucked up as it is. This thread is partially outrage, partially curiousity, and partially seeing if there's some trick I'm missing.

Please see this screenshot I just took: https://i.imgur.com/u81i6Eq.png

Lowest fare is $49.

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8 minutes ago, Inigima said:

Jesus Christ, read the post:



I read the post. Did you read mine? I know she's going on to DC, but you said 'it's expensive because it's 400 miles' when her only mentioned price was for the shorter journey. If she's not finding the best prices then fair enough, but her having to go further on doesn't make the price for part of the journey more reasonable.

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2 minutes ago, polishgenius said:



I read the post. Did you read mine? I know she's going on to DC, but you said 'it's expensive because it's 400 miles' when her only mentioned price was for the shorter journey. If she's not finding the best prices then fair enough, but her having to go further on doesn't make the price for part of the journey more reasonable.

The price she's quoting for Boston to NYC is also wrong

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OK, I wasn't aiming to start a fight...To get specific, the prices for the date I'm looking at (January 6th) range between 49 and 202 dollars for the train from Boston to New York. (it was 120 for the hour I wanted, but I could wait about 3 hours I suppose. It would mean potentially missing other things at the other end, but OK. This is hypothetical since I'll probably take the bus anyway.) 49 USD is more reasonable, though I also think is far too high a price point for both the strict service provided and for the social-economic optimum, but whatever.

Ini - What I don't entirely get, is why you're voiciferously defending this? Do you really think dynamically priced, 5-6 odd hours for 150 miles, 49 USD if you're lucky, is a reasonable level of mobility for one of the wealthiest metropolises in the world? (You could take the bus, but that offers the same issues - at times the prices are as high, and, with all my love for them, it is usually a qualitatively inferior service.)

I mean, does my expectation (rather in a spirit of mock-outrage) of transit that is reasonably priced, and more over fully useful and predictable to the passenger (see above - I could take the 49 train, but it is absolutely a lesser service for my needs than the 120 one) really seem like an outrageous thing?

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45 minutes ago, polishgenius said:



But Datepalm specified a train trip between NY and Boston and while 150 miles is still quite far, 100 dollars for that is absurdly expensive. London to Manchester- a roughly equivalent journey in the UK- costs just shy of 30 quid, or roughly 40 dollars. My regular return trips from university in Middlesbrough- about 200 miles from home- would cost 100 pounds return. Berlin to Hamburg- also about 150 miles- costs 45 Euros, roughly 50 dollars (I'm quite surprised that such a journey costs less in the UK than Germany actually).
In other words, 100 dollars for the specified trip is a lot.

The regular price for trip from Berlin to Hamburg on the fastest train (ICE) is 79 Euro (132 Euro if you go first class). The price you quote is what Deutsche Bahn calls Sparpreis. You have to book a specific train in advance and it's for a limited number of seats on each train. Deutsche Bahn also offers discounts to subscribers of their Bahncard scheme, so the number of people actually paying the regular price is probably low.

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14 minutes ago, Datepalm said:

OK, I wasn't aiming to start a fight...To get specific, the prices for the date I'm looking at (January 6th) range between 49 and 202 dollars for the train from Boston to New York. (it was 120 for the hour I wanted, but I could wait about 3 hours I suppose. It would mean potentially missing other things at the other end, but OK. This is hypothetical since I'll probably take the bus anyway.) 49 USD is more reasonable, though I also think is far too high a price point for both the strict service provided and for the social-economic optimum, but whatever.

Ini - What I don't entirely get, is why you're voiciferously defending this? Do you really think dynamically priced, 5-6 odd hours for 150 miles, 49 USD if you're lucky, is a reasonable level of mobility for one of the wealthiest metropolises in the world? (You could take the bus, but that offers the same issues - at times the prices are as high, and, with all my love for them, it is usually a qualitatively inferior service.)

I mean, does my expectation (rather in a spirit of mock-outrage) of transit that is reasonably priced, and more over fully useful and predictable to the passenger (see above - I could take the 49 train, but it is absolutely a lesser service for my needs than the 120 one) really seem like an outrageous thing?

I suspect the price difference isn't due to the timing -- I suspect it's because the train that's at the time you want is the Acela, which is a different type of train that goes faster.

I am not a big Amtrak person -- like I said, I've taken it once only, because usually it's much slower than a plane and not priced accordingly. I'm not defending the pricing per se, I don't have a horse in that race. But I don't think it's very fair to bash my country for rail pricing when you aren't even getting the pricing right.

I asked what a comparable trip would cost because I wanted a basis for comparison. If I understand right, polishgenius quoted about £100 for a 200 mile trip; that's about US$130. I'm unclear from the phrasing if that's one-way or round trip; either way it's more than $50. So I'm just not seeing what you guys are so worked up about? Why is this substantially worse -- or worse at all -- than Europe?

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Americans own cars. almost all of us do. we don't put the same degree of need on trains and buses as a form of city to city travel as Europeans. 

I love the train for trips to NYC to DC. though it can be costly if you don't book in advance.  

when in England I thought the train from Newcastle to London was fucking magical.  it was inexpensive and comfortable.

 

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22 minutes ago, Loge said:

The regular price for trip from Berlin to Hamburg on the fastest train (ICE) is 79 Euro (132 Euro if you go first class). The price you quote is what Deutsche Bahn calls Sparpreis. You have to book a specific train in advance and it's for a limited number of seats on each train. Deutsche Bahn also offers discounts to subscribers of their Bahncard scheme, so the number of people actually paying the regular price is probably low.



I know all this. I live in Berlin. :P

I was specifically just picking out lowest prices for a regular train since that is what Datepalm was presumably looking to do (a more detailed look says that on certain times you can do said journey for 19.90 Euros on the cheap price, but that is on Monday and still available so you don't have to book that far in advance).

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