This is worth about $50 to me. Photo by Kynan Tait on Flickr.

What’s the best way to get between New York and Washington?

It depends how you define “best”, of course. Just about everybody knows that the cheapest way to do it is via bus, but cheapest isn’t always best.

For the extra price of an Amtrak ticket you get more seating space, nicer and bigger bathrooms, a faster ride (even on the slow train, never mind Acela), the ability to get up and walk around, and a cafe car. Buses these days are pretty nice, but they’re not nearly as comfortable as Amtrak.

Just how much extra cash is that comfort worth?

It’s usually about $20 one-way on a bus and $100 one-way on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train. For a round trip, that’s a difference of $160. If you’re traveling with a partner (as I usually am), then that’s a round-trip two-person cost difference of $320. I like the cafe car, but not that much. For those prices, I’ll take the bus every time.

But what if the price difference were less? How much closer would it have to get for Amtrak to start looking reasonable?

It so happens that this weekend I’ll be driving up to New York with family, but coming home alone and without a car. For that one-way, one-person trip, the cost difference between Amtrak ($100) and bus ($20) isn’t as severe. It isn’t negligible though. $80 still seems like too much, at least on my budget.

However, I’ll be traveling fairly late at night, and Amtrak’s night discount is bigger than Bolt’s. The train I want is only $74, while the bus I want comes out to $23. That’s a difference of only $51. That cafe car is looking a lot more attractive now.

After thinking about it a few minutes, I booked on Amtrak. Being able to walk around, use a nice restroom, and get food when I want was worth the extra $51 to me, but just barely. If the difference had been much more I don’t think I could have justified it to myself. $30 difference: Done in a heartbeat. $60 difference: I’m not so sure.

What would you do? How much extra will you pay for the luxury of a train?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado and lives in Trinidad, DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post. Dan blogs to express personal views, and does not take part in GGWash's political endorsement decisions.