Why Isn’t There a Good Way to Get From Philly to New York?

Put your kid through college or buy an Amtrak Acela ticket.

Toll Brothers is heading to New York to work on a big, new construction project. Good for them. I hope they succeed. The building industry has been struggling, and they’ll be faced with many challenges. Financing. Unions. Permits. The Sopranos. I’m sure they’ll be fine. That is, if they can figure out a good way to get to New York. Because that’s not easy either.

OK, I won’t be doing multimillion-dollar building projects in Brooklyn like those guys. But I find myself going to New York on an average of twice a month for various client-related projects. You’d think that living in Philly, the journey would be easy. But in all the years I’ve been going there I’ve yet to find a good way.

Sure, I could spend a ton of money. In fact, a few of my neighbors travel every day to buy and sell in the city’s Diamond District. They take the Acela. It’s quick and efficient … and unbelievably expensive. Don’t believe me? OK, try catching the 7:35 a.m. Acela from 30th Street Station and returning home that night at 6 p.m. You’ll pay $312. This is for a freaking train ride—complete with terrible food (cost is extra) and horrible Internet service. I’ve done this before (on my client’s dime, of course) and what’s most surprising? The train is packed! Seems like there’s no shortage of one-percenters out there who can afford this sweet ride. That and those neighbors of mine who are clearly making bank in the Diamond District. But for me, a small-business owner, taking the Acela into New York is not a cost-effective option.

So what to do?

I could take a regular Amtrak train. But again, in rush hour, the cost is about as terrifying. Leaving Philly at 7:24 a.m. and returning from the Big Apple at 6:25 p.m. on the Northeast Regional will take slightly longer and cost slightly less: $182 round-trip. May I remind you that it’s still … a train! Not that my kids could ever get accepted there, but for me, $182 equates to about .004333 percent of a full year’s tuition at Penn, and you just can’t put enough of a value on a college education, right? Oh, and I’m forgetting the extra 30 bucks to park at the train station for the day.

I could take SEPTA and New Jersey Transit to New York. Or, I could just walk. Both ways should take about the same amount of time. Sure, it would cost approximately 40 bucks round-trip. Unless you’re my 74-year-old mother and her blue-haired friends who have all the time in the world to see their Wednesday matinees, or a teenager looking for a cheap excursion with his girlfriend, taking this route is not a productive alternative.

I’m definitely not going to fly. There are three types of people who fly from Philadelphia to New York: 1) those connecting from another flight, 2) super-rich dudes with their own private planes, and 3) people who also fly from Philadelphia to places like Allentown, Lancaster and Harrisburg. Who are these people?

And I’m definitely … definitely not taking one of those $1 bus services. The only reason I’m going to Chinatown is to eat a delicious dinner, not to put my life at risk riding on one of those death traps. And although more reputable, services like Megabus and BoltBus transport too many college kids taking advantage of the cheap ride. I’m a businessman, dammit, and I deserve more respect than that! Plus, I’m around my own kids too much as it is, and the last thing I need is another two-and-a-half hours stuck between a couple of 20-year-olds alternating conversation from the tragic situation in the Sudan to how “shmacked” they got at a fraternity party last weekend. Forget it.

Maybe I can just drive. Except that’s not so great either. Did you know that it costs $12 just to go through the Lincoln Tunnel? I hear it’s cheaper if you have an EZ Pass. But there’s gas. And NJ and PA turnpike tolls. And parking in the city. Driving is tough too because you can’t get anything done along the way. (God forbid you hold a conversation on a cell phone while taking notes and sending an email from your laptop while driving … people are so uptight nowadays!). Then, of course, there’s the threat of traffic. I’ve found that you can cruise through the tunnels around 11:02 a.m. and then again at 2:17 p.m., so time your meetings accordingly. And is there any other way than the NJ Turnpike? Every side road seems too congested. So I’m forced to take the turnpike (or is it I-95? This confuses me too) where I’m risking a two-hour delay because some lady from Queens ran out of gas while visiting her niece in Trenton. Aargh!

Any ideas for me? For the good people at Toll Brothers? We’re Philadelphians trying to do business in New York, and it’s not easy. And please don’t tell me about improving our infrastructure and building out a high-tech transportation system in the Northeast Corridor. That will cost a billion-zillion dollars, and our government can’t even afford to fund a Pakistani version of Sesame Street. Yes, it’s sad but true. Well, I guess when put into context, my travel problems don’t amount to much.