A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Riding the Bus from Boston and New York to Portland

It must be summer — this site's seeing a big spike in traffic from people searching for "Portland-Boston bus" or "Portland to New York City bus".

If you're one of those people looking for a weekend getaway to the refreshingly mild, beachy shores of Casco Bay, here's a few tips from someone who makes the Portland-to-NYC bus trip pretty regularly.

  • Concord Coach is the best way to get between Boston and Portland. They have buses that depart nearly hourly in each direction, they show movies (bad ones, usually), they offer free wi-fi, and the trip takes less than 2 hours. If you're coming from Portland, they'll also give you a free snack as you board.  
  • You can almost always stow a bicycle in the luggage compartments of all the intercity bus services between NYC and Portland, Maine. The coach companies emphasize that they'll make no guarantees, but they've never not had room for my bike — even on buses packed with students headed to college with all their luggage. That said, they make no guarantees that there will always be room, so be prepared to leave your bike locked up at the station. 
  • If there's no room for your bike on the bus, or if you don't feel like lugging it along with you, there are a few bike rental options in Portland once you arrive here.
  • In Boston, Concord Coach stops at the South Station bus terminal, the same place where buses from NYC stop. There are lots of choices for trips between Boston and NYC. The Bolt Bus and Megabus are more comfortable, usually, but because they stop in midtown Manhattan, they spend more time stuck in traffic. Lucky Star and Fung Wah are cheaper and faster, you can buy a walk-on ticket from their office right before you leave, and, if you're headed to or from Brooklyn, their pickup/dropoff location at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge is more convenient.
  • In the summertime, Concord Coach also runs two buses a day up Route 1 to Bangor, with stops in coastal towns like Brunswick, Bath, Freeport, Rockland (where you can catch the ferry to Vinalhaven), and Camden. With advance reservations, you can also catch a connecting bus from the Bangor terminal to Acadia National Park.
  • The one drawback to taking Concord Coach is that their Portland station is in the boondocks, surrounded by freeway offramps. Cabs are cheap, though, and you can also take METRO's Route 5 bus, which stops there roughly every 20 minutes during the daytime hours (local bus schedules are on Google Maps).
  • The train is also an option, on the Amtrak Downeaster from Boston to Portland, but it takes about 40 minutes longer than the bus trip. It also leaves from Boston's North Station, so it's a harder connection to make if you're traveling from the south. Because of the gap between Boston's South Station and North Station, there's no train that connects straight through from southern New England to Maine.
  • Avoid Greyhound. They're more expensive and they have worse service.


Scott said...

I'll second the recommendation to avoid Greyhound. On one Greyhound trip a few years ago my driver got completely lost in Bangor and couldn't find I-95. I had to give him directions :-/

Jay Bee said...

Unfortunately, adequate intercity services all but completely bypasses Maine's second largest city... Perhaps the tolls on I-95 are a hindrance to more travelers than those in autos.

Turbo said...

You forgot to mention that on the train you can have a beer! It is so civilized, you won't notice the extra half hour of travel.

Ari said...

A couple caveats in re Concord Coach (which provides, in my opinion, some of the best intercity bus service anywhere in the country).

1) the seats are unreserved. Most of the time, this is not an issue, but during peak travel times they suggest you arrive 30 minutes early for the bus, and it's possible that you'd be denied boarding (that being said, I believe they will add additional buses if demand calls for it).

2) At rush hours, traffic can add an hour to the Portland-Boston trip. Rush hours include southbound from 7-9 on Route 1, northbound from 4-7 on Route 1, and Sundays southbound where there's usually a backup from 3 to 7 on 95 in Kittery.

3) If you're over 6 feet, the seats on the bus are, well, cozy.

But, jeezum, with 25 departures combined between the train and bus (and cross-ticketing) it's very convenient to get from Boston to Portland. Many kudos to Concord Coach in the last 20 years (did you know they only entered the Boston-Portland market in 1992?) for dramatically improving the bus transportation system in Maine. At $20, give or take, fares are cheaper than driving (since tolls are $6 alone!) and a whole lot less aggravating.