Starlight sold: New owner bets on bus travel

news-starlight-goffNew owner Dan Goff says Starlight Express has newer buses, better wi-fi, and more leg room.

For six years, the Starlight Express, brainchild of entrepreneurs Oliver Kuttner and David New, has ferried passengers to New York City and back. The two have sold their locally grown bus service to Ruckersville-based A. Goff Limo, and the new owner stands ready to get in Amtrak's face for Charlottesville-to-NYC travelers.

Dan Goff is so confident that passengers will choose the bus over train that after the holidays, he plans to put the Starlight's pick-up/drop-off point, which has been on East Market Street, literally in Amtrak's face at its station on West Main Street.

"That's the center of the city," says Goff. "We don't have a physical location on Market Street."

And although the unpaved parking lot at the Amtrak station has been a source of controversy for years now, it does offer more parking, says Goff, in a location where passengers can wait for their departure in restaurants and find multiple transportation options when the bus returns at midnight.

Since purchasing the bus company in a deal consummated in August, Goff (whose wife, Ana, founded A. Goff in 2000) has added newer coaches with better wi-fi and replaced ice-filled coolers with bolted-down refrigerators for drinks and snacks.

"A six-and-a-half hour drive, and you're in New York," says Goff, noting that's comparable to Amtrak stated travel time. "We have a better on-time record," he adds.

Starlight is $99 each way or $179 round trip. Amtrak's roundtrip fares range from $120 when purchased well in advance for non-weekend travel to $310. (Greyhound, which takes a minimum of 14 hours to make the journey, can go as low as $120 round-trip.)

"If we lose five percent of our passengers to Amtrak, and they lose five percent to us, that's a big win for us," says Goff.

Starlight founder Kuttner has gone on to develop a prototype for a fuel-efficient car of the future that recently won the $5-million X Prize. New, creator of Root 66 Root Beer, says he will remain partners with Kuttner on some real estate in Lynchburg.

"It was time," says New. "It needed to go to another level. It needed to be two to three times bigger. We're not manager types–- we started a very cool business and had a nice niche. It did well for awhile, then the economy took the wind out of our sails."

Meanwhile, A. Goff Limo has been quietly assembling a regional transportation business, says Dan Goff. It started out with limousines and has the second largest fleet in Virginia, according to its website.  A. Goff has acquired eight livery companies, including Royal Motor Cars out of Crozet, Executive Limousine, and Van on the Go airport shuttle. The company offers service to all of Virginia, parts of North Carolina and Maryland, and now New York.

Goff says he was in discussion with Starlight three years ago but got spooked when Amtrak announced it would add trains to Charlottesville. But when he looked at the numbers nearly a year after Amtrak launched the new state-subsidized service, he saw no dent in Starlight's ridership. Another thing that worried Goff about running buses was a spike in gas prices, but even that turned to have a silver lining.

"That drives ridership through the roof," enthuses Goff. "Peak ridership is when gas is highest."

The Starlight acquisition has only fueled Goff's ambitions. He knows many UVA students and staff have northern Virginia connections, so other options include adding a stop at the West Falls Church Metro station. That would also allow connections to the D.C. airports and to Amtrak's Union Station.

"We think the lowest cost to get to Dulles is $175 by van," says Goff. "A shuttle would be around $40 each way, and that's a huge difference."

The company is also eyeing the idea of servicing Harrisonburg, which, along with Staunton and Lexington, provides a lot of customers who already drive over to catch the Starlight Express. A shuttle for commuters who work in Richmond is another possibility.

"The future of transportation is in the past–- intercity bus transportation," declares Goff, citing the so-called Chinatown bus lines that pick up passengers along city curbsides for low-cost travel between such cities as Richmond, Washington, New York, and Boston.

"Those operators said we need a corner, not a $3-million terminal," says Goff. Maintaining that motor coaches are the "greenest" way to travel, Goff also notes buses don't require the expensive, public subsidies and dedicated paths that trains do.

"There's no question the public subsidizes buses and trucks," counters train advocate Meredith Richards. "The infrastructure is publicly owned and publicly provided." And buses and trucks pay fuel taxes to help pay for roads, she adds.

Nor does Richards believe that buses are greener. "As far as their fuel efficiency, I'd challenge anyone," says Richards.

But she does think there's room enough for both Amtrak and Starlight on the New York route, as their combined schedules create flexibility that should help get more cars off the road.

"I know people who take the train to New York and return on the Starlight Express," says Richards. "And I like the idea of multi-modal transportation from the Amtrak station."

As for former owner New, he hasn't quite gotten the Starlight Express out of his life. "I'm going to New York on Thursday," he says.

Updated 1:30pm November 30 with different photograph and corrected Amtrak fares.


Thank you for the questions and the support of Starlight Express. Some thoughts: We are reviewing other routes, including trying to connect the Valley and Charlottesville. Depending on several factors, it costs us between $35 and $65 per hour to operate a bus with mileage being the biggest determinant. Wherever there is room above that, we would like to see if we can make it work out. We are also thinking about NOVA/Charlottesville dedicated route and we would be interested in any opinions on a circuit running to the Vienna metro station. Maybe a $30 to $40 fare for a one way ride in smaller bus could work. If anyone has any ideas, please share them. I would like to personally thank ââ?¬Å?boooo! for the hilarious take on this blog; however, any attempt to defend my choice of attire will ultimately prove fruitless.

loved starlight. they were the only thing running earlier this year during the big snowfall on the East Coast, No trains no planes but they made it through. Very very comfortable. Keep them running.

how much $ does it cost to ride from cville to nyc
and i am looking for work & im jobless 434-825-3183
cleaning buses
and other stuff
i would like to drive for you dan
but i need to get my cdl

Yeah right, as the article states, this is the same company who took over airport shuttles after Van on the Run went out of business. Their "service" cost twice that of a taxicab from Charlottesville to the airport. Starlight Express was a wonderful alternative to flying to NYC, mainly because of the enthusiasm and passion of the owners, and the price was quite reasonable.

We laud Ms. Richards work on behalf of the residents of Central Virginia and support her efforts in intermodal transportation. For the record, our contention regarding motor coaches as the greenest form of travel is derived, in part, from the Union of Concerned Scientists 2008 report "Getting There Greener". The report rates green travel options for individuals, couples and families of four, each traveling 100, 500 or 1000+ miles. Motor coaches scored #1 in all categories with trains ranking #2 to #5 out of 6 choices, depending on the category.
The report and rankings can be found at UCSUSA has this to say about scientific integrity: Political interference in federal government science is weakening our nation's ability to respond to the complex challenges we face. Because policy makers depend on impartial research to make informed decisions, we are mobilizing scientists and citizens alike to push for reforms that will enable our leaders to fully protect our health, safety, and environment.
At Starlight Express, we believe a variety of choices in transportation is important and we hope to be a long term and viable part of the solution for Central Virginia. All transportation has weak and strong points. Bicycles don't do well in the snow, planes depend on other planes to get out of their way so they can depart, cars or buses can have flat tires (as we did this weekend) and trains offer little option if their chosen path is blocked. By working together to build sustainable systems that are flexible, economically sound and environmentally supportive, we can offer our neighbors mobility, freedom and the opportunity to interact with others that has been missing for so long in our area.

Seems overpriced...the Bolt Bus runs from Union Station to NYC for only $20-25 - I'd never pay an extra $75 just for the leg from CHO to DC - cheaper to drive up to NoVA; park your car and take the metro into Union Stn.

Why the quote from Ms. Richards against this? Was it taken out of context? Or does she really love rail that much that she can't see benefits in any other mode of transportation?

ââ?¬Å?There’s no question the public subsidizes buses and trucks,” counters train advocate Meredith Richards. ââ?¬Å?The infrastructure is publicly owned and publicly provided.”
Okay, and same with Amtrak. Only with Amtrak, the public owns the vehicles too, while Starlight Express is a private venture.

Nor does Richards believe that buses are greener. ââ?¬Å?As far as their fuel efficiency, I’d challenge anyone,” says Richards.
Transportation is about moving PEOPLE, not vehicles. Both trains and buses have worse "fuel efficiencies" in terms of miles traveled per unit of fuel than an automobile. However, the fuel efficiency in terms of PASSENGER-miles per unit of fuel consumed becomes much better than an automobile when these vehicles see a lot of riders. If the typical Amtrak car carries far more people than a Starlight Express bus, then Ms. Richards is probably right. If the reverse happens, she's wrong.

@RideBoltBus - that's sort of a problem if one doesn't have a car. But the Bolt Bus sure looks good once you're in DC.

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Dan Goff, Have a bus that heads to the hospital (both of them) several times a day to match the shifts needed there from Green County, Crozet, Waynesboro, and Staunton. That would make a difference in peoples commute expense and make you some green...

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Do you have something against large goats, Pete?

I am indescribably proud of the 75+ staff members who provide safe, efficient and high quality travel choices to our 200,000+ guests each year. Women and men who can be found at all hours, under all conditions, doing the extra things to make travel in Virginia a bit more comfortable and a little more fun. Their safety record is exemplary, the condition of the equipment they operate is outstanding and their contribution to the region is great. A previous commenter has denigrated the work of this fine group and should be ashamed of anonymously posting such untruths. I am not sure what the motivation behind such slander is, but I suspect it is self-serving.

That's the beauty of forums where you can twang on people, some of whom you may even be related to, and hide behind that shield of anonymity, all within reason of course since as GBSOE points out if you go too far your identity can be found. And as far as that goes, you can even stir the pot by using someone else's real name and proclaiming :"I'm Spartacus".

This thread is nuts. Questions about whether one can take alcohol and goats on board the bus, people worried about seat comfort, and getting riled up that a question temporarily went ignored...IGNORED I tell you! It wasn't answered! Criticizing Mr. Goff's attire, implying a conspiracy because the same switchboard operator answers a phone for multiple companies, even Lucifer made a guest appearance and threw in his two cents that he eats cats, but not puppies.

Just another day in the Hook comments section!

I will say this: I always admire anybody who is willing to get on here as themselves, under their real name, and face questions and comments - inflammatory or otherwise - head on. That's respectable. It's obnoxious however when detractors use this as a weapon, seeming to get off on the fact that they know for certain who they're talking to and can hide behind anonmyminity as they attack. "I know who you are but you don't know who I am! I can say whatever I want to you now!hahahaha!"

Is sippin sizzurp allowed on Starlight?

is it true the 'new' Starlight buses don;t have the comfy seats with lots of space between them, just the same Greyhound+airline style seats? that was one of the best part of the 'old' Starlight.

Hi Andrew and thanks for the question. Starlight has always been house pet friendly and will remain so. We have found pets often have better manners than people(nota bene: whatajoke).

I started driving for Starlight in 2005, and completed about a dozen trips per year on the old busses up until the company was sold. I recently again drove the NYC shuttle route for the new management - Dan Goff.

I can add the following to the discussion: the newer busses inspire more confidence in their mechanicals; likely there will be fewer breakdowns or failures in basic comforts (good heat + A/C); they have more power for climbing hills, which makes a big difference to the travel time (10% less time to NYC); they have more power for maneuvering in traffic, increasing active safety; the suspensions are better, meaning more comfort over the bumps and potholes, and again more safety. I also noticed the bus used less fuel than the older ones did.

The new management runs a tight ship.

While some perks have changed from the old service, I predict the new Starlight will be as well-loved as the old.

Best regards,


Thanks David & Oliver for so many fun trips to my NYC,
And thanks Dan for all to come,your Omni buddy.

Hi Deem,
We haven’t tried I-95 because that would require running on the rural roads over to Fredericksburg. We feel that Rt. 29 to I-66 is the safest and most comfortable route. Our normal route is about 340 miles one way, mostly on interstates or divided highways, and we travel at the speed limit. Google Maps estimates the trip at 6 hours and 43 minutes and we find it usually takes about 6 œ hours. The time it takes to go from one destination to another is always very important to travelers and we understand that aspect. We have heard many reports from travelers; as well as, regulatory bodies about excessive speeding by Chinatown buses. Our view in the end is that safety & comfort trump speed.

@Whatajoke: in the article it notes that A. Goff has acquired 8 livery companies. Seems like that may account for many different listing with one person running dispatch/reservations/etc.


Starlight has been the only non-auto mode of travel to NYC that welcomes our two small dogs. As a result, Starlight has enjoyed our business for the past 6 years. We hope this unique feature doesn't get lost in the shuffle. We look forward to riding again soon.


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In response the the seats, they are not like the old buses. They are more similar to a standard coach bus now. Also, on my last trip, there was no wi-fi at all, so I'm not sure where the "better wi-fi" comes from.

@Col. Forbin - You forgot the standard cliche accusations concerning liberals vs. conservatives. :D

How can you be so full of yourself (nota bene: Dan Goff)?
If you like answering questions .. Answer ther one about the seats.. Are you Keeping the Starlight comfy seats?

@boooo!, so true! A story about the many ways to prepare and serve brussels sprouts quickly morphs into a shoutfest about how anyone who supports the opposing view is explicit proof that they are Lucifer himself and most likely gorging themselves on puppies.

I'm curious about the route the buses take. I recently took a "chinatown" bus from Richmond to NYC (outside Penn Station), roundtrip, for $60. The bus FLEW - so much so that we were fearful at points ... but, made it safely in the end in under 6 hours (well under, both directions). Have you ever tried the 95N route and the avoidance of 29 to route 66 to the beltway? ( a friend took bus at thanksgiving and told me this was route.)

Hi RW & Recent Rider,
I appreciate the opportunity to address the seating and WIFI questions. When we acquired Starlight, three buses were in service. Two were regular interstate coaches with some seats removed and the rest spread out to allow for extra legroom. The third bus was modified by removing the original seats and replacing them with seats that had been taken from BMW's that were no longer operational. We did not purchase the buses Starlight had (those are now for sale by David & Oliver and will make great band buses or RV conversions). We felt that since the BMW replacement seats and their mountings had never been tested in a bus, our passengers would benefit by using safety tested orthopedic bus seats designed for long distance travel. We have taken one of the new buses, designed for 47-49 passengers and configured it for 38 seats. The other bus was originally designed for 55-59 passengers and it has been re-configured for 46 seats.
On the peak travel days of the 23rd, 24th and 28th of November, demand exceeded the capacity of the normal Starlight buses and an extra bus was added to each route to handle the overage. Those extra buses had regular style seating and did not have the WIFI or the 110v plug-ins. Our plan for next Thanksgiving is to have WIFI available on any replacement buses. We understand that good WIFI offers passengers the ability to be productive or relax as desired and so we doubled both the bandwith and access points on the regular buses. Downloading video is troublesome, but regular web surfing works fine all the way along the route.
We are intrigued by the feedback we are receiving here on The Hook blog and look forward to incorporating the suggestions we are getting.

I love how any story on The Hook can become an angry confrontation: "I love salads!" "I HATE salads!" "Why, you low-down, no-good, dirty Yankee carpetbagger!" :-)

I think taking a bus to NYC sounds good, but what about traffic jams? How often is the bus stuck in a 2 or 3 hour mess?

I do eat the occasional cat, but never puppies.

Re: Dan1101, I used to drive full time for the company and now handle reservations; the only times traffic is ever an issue are:
-The 6am saturday trips during the summer (NJ Shore beach traffic)
-Random days during the fall when they decide to undertake massive night construction projects.

Generally, delays of an hour or more only happen once every 15-20 trips, delays of a half an hour are more like one in 5-10.

but you didn't answer the question about whether or not "sipping of sizzurp" was allowed. can one bring adult beverages on board?

@Dan Goff,

Please consider adding a route to DC (Union Station). Greyhound is the only game in town (Amtrak's over priced now) and Greyhound is terrible. Run a route to DC and price it competitively and you won't have any trouble finding customers.

Hello Curious,
Without trying to sound like a lawyer or a killjoy, I have to refer you to our policy statement: A Goff Transportation reserves the right to refuse to transport a person under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, or whose conduct is such likely to be such as to make him or her objectionable to other passengers or prospective passengers. Such persons may be removed from the bus or terminal by the driver or terminal personnel. In event of such removal, the liability of the carrier shall not exceed the amount of the fare paid by the passenger.

Just wondering if I can bring a small goat on the bus to new York from Charlottesville or only from Lynchburg? Thanks.