Cross-border travel: the good, the bad and the ugly

When a friend of mine first suggested I take the “Magic Bus” from Montreal to New York City, I was skeptical. However, he told me it was the fastest, least expensive mode of transportation between the two cities. Intrigued, I contacted the driver. After a few e-mail exchanges which involved him telling me I could only book one week in advance and that I would have to meet him at a particular metro at a specific time, I was still a bit uncertain but my friend reassured me and I left for the magic bus, money and backpack in hand.

I noticed some other luggage-laden individuals standing at the intersection where I was told to wait. A white van pulled up and people I assumed were experienced “Magic Bus” riders flocked towards the vehicle. I said “Hi” to another girl, gave the driver my bag and hopped into the van. Soon it was full, primary of young people. Several individuals said they took the van regularly. I quickly became comfortable, chatted with my fellow passengers and was impressed by this unique lift to New York: No long lineups at the bus station; no need to arrive an hour before departure; and considerably less expensive than the bus or the train.

The driver told us that Greyhound has a monopoly on ticket sales to individuals. This makes organizing rideshares difficult, as drivers cannot charge each passenger a fee, technically. This is unfortunate, as it is currently the most efficient way of getting from Montreal to New York: the bus takes 8 hours and always gets stuck at the border. The train takes an incredible 11 hours. Both other options are more expensive than the cost of a rideshare.  This makes rideshare a competitive option for those of us without cars. There are obvious restrictions: rideshares do not leave as often buses and do not usually have Wi-Fi as do trains.

Some of my friends and family were a bit perturbed when I told them I was getting a lift to New York with a man I did not know. The idea of a rideshare – getting into a car with strangers – does not bode well with most. Even the border guard warned me I should be more cautious; as he took my name and my passport he said: “Ma’am, you have to be more careful; you can’t get into a car with folks you don’t know, that ain’t safe”.

The fear of getting into a vehicle with a driver or individuals that are unknown deters us from rideshares, carpooling and taking the bus. On a continent where rail was long ago relegated to sporadic service, on tourist circuits, the results are inefficient, expensive and unsustainable: People fly from New York to Boston, Montreal to Toronto – or they drive alone.

How can we make rideshares, carpooling and buses more appealing, in lieu of (or while we await) better rail, recognizing that people are afraid of strangers. Perhaps we need to take advantage of social networks to show individuals that they are connected, in even the most remote way, to their fellow passengers (dynamic rideshare). Perhaps we need to create a community of rideshare users that is based on a rating passengers and drivers on their past behaviour, like Couchsurfing does for accommodation. These are just two ideas that have already been put into motion.

This can all come into place as we begin to structure our environment around more sustainable modes of travel, and away from single-occupancy vehicle commutes and air travel over short distances.


7 thoughts on “Cross-border travel: the good, the bad and the ugly

  1. Nathan

    A New Yorker used the word folks!? Are you sure you haven’t taken a bit of artistic liberty there, Devon? What a joke– I mean, you could use that guy’s same argument to say, “Don’t leave your house. The world is full of strangers.” I’m sure the United States’ paternalist government will soon try to regulate or outlaw car sharing..

    I think you’ve got a good idea there, perhaps even a profitable one with “Van Surfing”. Need a partner? If only I knew web design…


  2. Dan Blais

    Safety is a big concern here. I can recall more than report in the news where a van carrying several passengers was not fit to be on the road, or a driver may have been fatigued and this resulted in an accident with loss of life. If this is to become more common, there needs to be safety measures in place where drivers are expected to be able to drive long distances in a safe vehicle. I agree that there is somewhat of a monopoly on intercity passenger travel by road and rail, but regulations are in place to ensure that work/rest rules are respected for operators to avoid driver fatigue (probably one of the largest causes of accidents) and that vehicles are in good condition.

    1. Devon Paige Post author

      I think that is an excellent point, Dan.
      There needs to be a balance for sure. I agree that Greyhound has more safety checks — it is a recognized brand that must have fit vehicles and drivers, otherwise their business will suffer in the long-run. This is why I think a Couchsurfing-like system is the most promising for rideshares — a system that has security checks, where users can rate their experience with certain drivers and passengers and choose rides based on the rating of the drivers and passengers available. There is a new program like this in Montreal called Netlift ( It was launched in September.

  3. ralucaene

    I’m in a long distance relationship with someone from NY and we’ve taken the same rideshare before and it’s always been great.

    I didn’t know about the greyhound situation. That’s crazy. They shouldn’t be able to have a monopoly like that. I think people would complain if more people knew of this.

    There already are many rideshare groups like the one you describe. Amigoexpress is a big one. Their popularity is growing slowly. I agree with you about the importance of not being scared of strangers. I don’t mean not to be cautious or to trust everyone but generally speaking I think it’s positive to be exposed to others we don’t know. That’s a big part of what I love about the city. The serendipity it offers us. Too many people only feel comfortable in their own bubble. We are all human beings. Most of us want and fear the same things. Lets not forget that. As you can see, I’ve really enjoyed your article 🙂

    1. Devon Paige Post author

      Hi Raluca,

      Thank you for the comment.
      I really had a lot to think about on that ride to NY – it seems absurd that they is no quick way of moving between NY and Montréal.
      It is even worse for Boston – a 5 hour drive turns into 8 hours overnight by bus, or via trail it is 4 hours to NY + 11 hours to Montréal.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Andi

    This was really helpful Devon- thanks for assuaging my slight discomfort with the idea. Despite having done rideshares in the past, there’s always that twinge of ‘unknown’ that eats at you, but now that I have read your article I don’t feel like I’m ‘taking a chance’ anymore, but taking advantage of a service that has benefited others! And rideshares are a wicked idea- just in this day and age, one can never know…safety first!


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