I went into New York City today. Into the borough of Manhattan specifically. I live in the New York suburbs of NYC. I’m about forty miles north of Midtown Manhattan. That’s not a long distance to drive but in public transportation miles it is.

I could drive into NYC but I don’t do that too often. According to Google maps it would take me fifty four minutes to drive there. Or an hour and forty minutes with traffic. When is there no traffic in NYC you ask? I’d say between 3 AM and 6 AM. In other words there is always traffic. Whenever I’ve driven in to Midtown it has take at least an hour and a half.

Parking is another reason I generally don’t drive into the city. It’s not easy to find unless you have a budget for it. If you got fifty bucks there are plenty of parking garages. I guess you would have to do lots of driving to lots of places in Manhattan in order to learn the ins and outs of free parking on the street. Sure I’ve done it but it can’t be counted on.

I also have a very old car. If it breaks down I prefer it to break down locally. Who wants to be stuck on the West Side Highway in the middle of the day or night? Not me. And that highway can give quite a battering to my car. It’s not the smoothest of rides.

So for the past twenty years I’ve been taking public transport into NYC. Since I’m on the west side of the Hudson River than means busses. They tore the trains out sometime in the 1950’s when Robert Moses thought if he built enough roads they would never get clogged up. Boy did he learn a lesson along with the rest of us.

For all the years before I got a car I used to take the bus that came closest to my house. Unfortunately that bus took a solid two hours to get me into Manhattan. It was a local as are all the buses that run during non-commuter weekday hours and weekends. That was a long time to cover the forty miles I wanted to go. A commuter bus covered that distance in about an hour forty, which isn’t that much better, but they don’t run on Saturdays.

After I got my car I would drive ten miles to the mall in Nanuet NY. More buses ran from there than from my closest stop and it only took an hour and twenty minutes to cover the thirty miles from Nanuet to Manhattan. A fifteen minute ride saved me from forty minutes on the bus. Of course add half an hour onto all these bus times in case of traffic. Or rain. Or sun glare. Or whatever. You get the point.

There were always two buses an hour running from the Nanuet Mall. That is until last month when the budget cuts hit. Now there is only one bus an hour. As you can imaging things are more crowded and annoying. Especially when crowds are in the Port Authority bus terminal waiting for busses that don’t show up. That happens often enough but now instead of the next one being along in half an hour there will be an hour wait. Things can get crowded.

All this lead me to trying out a New Jersey Transit train. When I said there were no trains on my side of the Hudson that wasn’t exactly accurate. There is no longer a NY west side passenger line but the freight lines are still there. Plus there are a few trains that go along the New Jersey part of the Hudson River. I had only taken these trains a couple of times decades ago. They took a long time and didn’t go directly into Manhattan. You had to take them into Hoboken and then take another train into lower Manhattan.

Recently NJ finished their Secaucus Transfer Station. Now you can take a train from Nanuet to Seacaucus and then catch a second train from Secaucus to Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan. All that takes about an hour and twenty minutes. Down from an hour and a half (or more) and about the same time as the bus. I never took that route because trains run only about once an hour. Of course that’s what they cut the bus schedule to so same difference now.

I’m not sure if I like the train any better. I generally like trains better than busses because busses get stuck in traffic a lot more easily. But this train ride has a transfer in it and that doesn’t make things easier. Maybe it’s because the train ride is new to me but it was more tense. On the bus I put my headphones on and zone out. Sometimes I nap and sometimes I don’t but there is nothing to do until I get off at Port Authority. With the train I had to pay attention. What stop is this? Are we at Secaucus yet? What platform is the train on? Gotta make the connection. Wait for the connecting train. Is it here yet? Trying to catch and waiting for two trains is no fun. Twice the anxiety.

And then there is Penn Station itself. Oy! What a mess. Port Authority Bus terminal is no pleasure palace but it gets the job done. Here is how you catch a bus at the PA. Find out you bus’s route number and then find out what gate it leaves from. It left from the same gate last week and will leave from the same gate next week. Now go up to that gate and wait with a few hundred other people. Off peak and on the weekends don’t expect people to know how to line up properly. They really just mill around in sort of lines. Plus the gates are big and there are usually about four bus routes for each gate. When your bus shows up don’t be surprised to see people ignore the lines and rush it. It’s also amazing how many people rush the wrong bus. Keep a calm head and you’ll get on eventually.

Penn Station on the other hand was designed by idiots who I don’t think realized that people were going to have to use the building. Either the Long Island Railroad or NJ Transit here is how you catch a train at Penn. First you wait in a giant “Waiting Room” that is really just the big disordered hallways outside of the tracks. There are digital signs everywhere with train number and destinations on them. What track will your train be on? That is what you and thousands of others are waiting to see posted. Ten minutes before the train is scheduled to leave a track number is posted. That is the cue for the three or four hundred people who are waiting for that train to hurry to its track. The track is accessed by an entrance hallway/staircase that is two people wide! It’s a near stampede for every train. Who designed that crazy place? No one designed it. I think it just happened.

So though I have no love for the bus I didn’t find a better way in the train. I still might take it again but I’m not sure. All I know is that it sure is a lot of time and effort to cover thirty miles.