Take The Bus, Err, LimoLiner
Can A Tortoise Bus Beat The Boston-NYC Shuttle and The Mighty Acela Express?
By Francis Vale
The first thing that showed I wasn't in Kansas anymore was when the cabin attendant got on her cell phone to call a tardy passenger to see if he was coming, and if he was, they would wait a few minutes for him. Our errant passenger was just outside the bus, however, so we were able to push off right on time.
Uhh, did you say "bus"? Yes, a bus. But that's not quite fair as this was no ordinary bus. It was a LimoLiner, a first-class throughout, 28-seat wundervehicle that cossets its passengers in full reclining leather seats that have so much leg room that even a pro basketball player would have no problem stretching out his lanky seven foot frame and wiggling his shoe-challenged toes. I was taking the LimoLiner from downtown Boston to downtown New York to see how it stacked up against its main competition, planes and trains, on the congested Northeast Corridor. The answer follows, and it is surprising.
But first, a little background on this stretch limo on steroids. The LimoLiner (http://www.limoliner.com) is the brainchild of Fergus McCann, who is either visionary or daft, depending upon where you sit, so to speak. If you think that nothing can compete with the regularity of the airplane shuttles, or the blistering Acela Express, then the latter moniker fits.
But if you are a mobile warrior who wants free of charge, high speed mobile Internet access the whole trip; drop down personal viewing screens for watching TV (two channels) and newly released DVD movies; five music channels; seat-side power outlets; crystal clear cell phone reception all the way; conference tables for huddling with your associates en route, and think $69 is a fair price, nay, a bargain, for all these rolling amenities, then McCann is a true visionary.
The Boston leg of my trip began at 6:00AM in front of the Hilton Boston Back Bay hotel, where its very comfortable guest lounge serves as the LimoLiner passenger "terminal." We had a scheduled arrival time of four hours and ten minutes later in downtown NYC at the Hilton New York Hotel on 6th Avenue at 53rd Street. The Acela Express choo-choos into Penn Station in three and a half hours from Boston's South Station, while the airline shuttle will drop you off at La Guardia in about one hour after leaving Boston.
You will, of course, pay a premium for this speed. An Acela Express business class one-way ticket costs $99, and on the Delta Shuttle, coach seating will set you back about $240. However, discount tickets can usually be found for both the Acela Express and the shuttles, but the LimoLiner will always come out cheaper, if only by about twenty dollars or so.
As for the shuttle, the oft quoted one hour travel time is egregiously misleading, as you will have to get to the airport at least an hour before flight time to get frisked, scanned, and barefoot before departure. Moreover, as anyone who has sat and fumed on the tarmac well knows, one hour flight time does not always mean true travel time, especially in bad weather or if there is air traffic congestion. Then there is the half hour or so taxi ride from LGA to downtown NYC, if the traffic gods are smiling on you, that is. Boil it all down, and the shuttle will eat up almost three hours, or maybe more, of your time end to end.
Of course, you can forget about mobile Internet access on the shuttle, as there isn't any. Likewise, you can forget about luxury leather seats and huge stretch out comfort. Cell phone service on the plane will also be problematic. As for seat-side power outlets, you can forget about those, too. And the "intimate" coach seat accommodations on the shuttle make you pray you don't get a 300-pound Samoan who has yet to learn about personal hygiene as your seat-side traveling companion. On the upside, though, this flying discomfort chamber gets you psychologically prepared for handling those snarling NYC taxi drivers.
The Acela Express is a totally different story. Fast, highly comfortable and clean, traveling on this train will always make you smile. The Acela Express cabin attendants are polite and helpful, there is a quiet car to escape from the ring-a-ding cell phone racket, and all the seats have power outlets. However, there is, as of yet, no free mobile Internet access on the Acela Express. If you want to dial home for your e-mail you have to pay to use the on-board phones. There is also no "in-flight" entertainment, so bring a book. The Acela Express also offers something the LimoLiner doesn't—a club car watering hole for soaking your frayed nerves in gin on the return journey.
If you factor in the time its takes to plough through the yellow cab grid-locked traffic from Penn Station to a more central downtown location like the NYC Hilton hotel terminus of the LimoLiner, the total travel time for the Acela Express comes to about four hours. Although, because of the very same NYC traffic, our LimoLiner arrived at the NY Hilton about five minutes late, making the whole trip from Boston in fours and fifteen minutes.
The LimoLiner made only one stop en route to New York, at Framingham, MA, and it was express all the way after that. The LimoLiner was quiet, relaxed, and the cabin attendant was friendly and extremely helpful. She even served as a rolling Help Desk for an Internet challenged passenger who couldn't get his laptop to connect. She succeeded. She also had a supply of extra Ethernet cables on hand for those people who had laptops without a wireless access card. Each seat has an Ethernet port, as well a cup holder and power outlet. She also served a decent continental breakfast of a muffin, yogurt, banana, and coffee, tea, etc.
I was curious how it would be to work on the LimoLiner as reading or working on a rolling vehicle can be cause for blacktop mal de mar. Surprisingly, the quiet LimoLiner ride was rock steady, and it wasn't until we hit a small patch of stop and go traffic while traveling through Connecticut that there was some lurching about. This also brings up the Achilles heel of the LimoLiner when compared to the almost unstoppable Acela Express. The LimoLiner is still a bus, and as such it is at the mercy of traffic jams, roadside accidents and the weather. So even the best-laid LimoLiner schedules can be scrambled if a tractor-trailer accidentally dumps its load of casaba melons all over the highway.
The LimoLiner leaves Boston and New York three times a day, at 6:15AM, 12:15PM, and 6:15PM weekdays, with a late evening bus from NYC to Boston departing at 11:15PM for those who want to carouse a bit in the Apple and sleep it off on the ride home. They also have weekend service, departing from Boston on Saturday's at 8:00 AM, and at 1:00PM from New York. On Sunday, the LimoLiner leaves Boston at 12:00 PM, and from NYC at 5:00PM and 5:30PM. These are OK schedules, but both the Acela and the shuttle beat the LimoLiner hands down for scheduling flexibility.
I took the Acela Express on the return leg from NYC to Boston to see how the LimoLiner stacked up against the train. Surprisingly, the LimoLiner was more comfortable than the Acela Express, which is saying a lot. The LimoLiner has better seats, more stretch out room, and offers true first class passenger accommodations. The bathroom on the LimoLiner also defies all previous bus-induced expectations with its hospital cleanliness and fresh cut flowers.
For overall comfort, amenities and luxury, the LimoLiner is the winner and steams past the Acela Express, and by more than just a nose. As for the shuttle, it wasn't even entered in this comfort race. However, the LimoLiner can't beat the service in the first class car of the Acela Express, but that Acela seat will cost you $149, or $80 more than the one size fits all LimoLiner price of $69. And if you are a worrywart about on-time performance, then the Acela Express beats both the LimoLiner and the shuttles.
So which to choose, LimoLiner, Acela Express, or the shuttle? For the true Road Warrior, at least until the Acela Express and the shuttles get their Internet act together, the LimoLiner is the clear champion. There is also a semi-private back section in the LimoLiner with two tables that is perfect for a group of up to ten business people to have a meeting along the way.
For those who are willing to plan ahead and can accept the possibility of a delay—if you are a shuttle traveler such delays are a standard part of your anxiety routine already — then for the moment at least, the $69 LimoLiner is the new crown champion for moving Mobile Warriors in high style back and forth from Boston to New York. And even if you don't carry a laptop, it's still pretty cool.
Copyright 2004, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved
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