The Washington DC to New York City trip and its reverse is one of the most traveled routes in the United States. This round trip is also the most frequent trip made by The Nature Conservancy staff, according to a recent assessment of the organization’s carbon emissions.
I like crunching numbers and do this trip several times a year, so I set out to find the cheapest, fastest and greenest options.
Train vs. Plane vs. Bus vs. Car
I looked at the train, plane, bus and car. More specifically, I looked at Amtrak (Acela and regional); Delta; US Airways; Megabus; Bolt Bus; BestBus; and driving a Toyota Prius (the icon of car greenness).
I pulled price data from train, plane and bus websites and from the EPA for car fuel mileage, gasbuddy.com for gasoline prices, and the I-95 exit guide for tolls. The greenhouse gas emissions for each transport option come from the 2014 DARFA factors. The time data come from train, plane and bus schedules and Google Maps for the car trip.
I assumed a Union Station, DC to Penn Station, NY trip and the reverse — roughly city center to city center. For airports, I used National (DCA) and LaGuardia (LGA) and the fastest option from the train station to the airport (a car ride).
For travel times, I averaged Friday at 4:00 pm and Sunday at 9:00 am departure times — perhaps the worst and best traffic travel times.
Fast & Green vs. Cheap & Greener
So what’s the bottom line?
Take the bus if you’re on a budget or want to minimize the trip’s carbon footprint.
Take the train if you want to get there fast.
The bus generally costs $60 round trip, and the CO2 emissions are 22 kg per passenger for the 468 mile round trip (42% less than train and far less than the plane or car). A list of the bus lines that make the trip can be found here.
The Acela train does the round trip in about 5 hours and 33 minutes, which is 1 hour faster than the plane (and 3 hours 30 minutes faster than the bus or car). The plane takes 6 hours and 30 minutes round trip from city center to city center. This includes 1 hour and 15 minutes in each segment of the trip for the security clearance, boarding and deplaning and 30 minutes each way to get to and from the city center.
Even Amtrak’s slower NE regional train is faster than the plane.
If you want to work during the trip or the weather is less than perfect, the train is also the best option.
Buying train tickets on the Acela 14 days in advance gets the best price.
If you take the car, be prepared to pay $63.70 in tolls for the round trip and up to $50 for 24 hours of parking in Manhattan.
On greenness, weirdly, it may be better to fly than drive if one looks at the energy per passenger mile rather than at the greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent article.
In short, when making the DC2NYC trip or its reverse, the train and the bus are the best options.