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Bus doesn't bust budgets-- The Hawk
by Sean Coit

At the crowded intersection of 5th and H Streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C., a middle aged Chinese woman screams to a pack of idle travelers standing on the street corner.

"Philly over there!" she yells, pointing excitedly to a coach bus parking half a block down, right in front of the Irish Channel Pub. "That bus is for Philly!"

Eager to follow the woman's directions, mounds of backpacks, duffel bags, and wheeled suitcases disappear from the street corner along with their owners, hurriedly scuffling down the block to claim a seat on the increasingly legendary "Chinatown Bus."

Officially, the bus belongs to "New Century Travel," a hastily operated passenger bus company that provides quick, inexpensive, and interesting travel between the "Chinatowns" of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. Most riders, though, know and label it by its more recognizable nickname - "The Chinatown Bus."

The bus scheduled to leave at 4 p.m. fills and then departs before 3:45 p.m. on a busy Saturday afternoon, and many passengers still struggle to find seats and stow their bags in the overhead storage shelves as the bus flies down New York Avenue.

The last passenger to squeeze his way onto the bus walks excitedly through the aisles searching for a place to sit, but draws suspicious stares and mutterings in a variety of languages from those sitting next to an available seat.

"What, you don't want me to sit next to you?" he loudly asks a terrified older woman. She clearly doesn't - she's not surprisingly turned off by his entirely neon outfit, complete with bright green shoes and purple laces to match skintight jeans and dreadlocks flowing from beneath an orange and yellow winter hat.

With such a fascinating atmosphere, to go with a under-three-hour trip to Philadelphia for only $15, it's no small wonder that many college students in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York are turning to the "Chinatown" bus to schlep them along I-95.
With a growing number of students enrolling at colleges and universities farther from home, traveling costs have joined tuition, room and board, and textbooks as a standard fee that families sending students to college must budget for. Rising gas prices have compounded the issue, making a train ticket or fill at the pump a higher price to pay for a weekend back with the parents and a home-cooked meal.

"I was just introduced to the Chinatown bus this year," said New Yorker Danny Kilduff, '09 "but I'm definitely going to take it more from now on, it just makes more sense."

Though many students from nearby hometowns often carpool to and from their universities, unexpected visits home or trips to see friends in another city can be pricey.

Amtrak runs trains between every major city in the Northeast, and provides a luxurious experience complete with a "silent car" and a "food car," but comes at a steep price. One way tickets between Philadelphia and Washington or New York are priced at least $60.

One way between Washington and New York is more than $100, well beyond most college-aged budgets.

"It's completely a cost issue for me; the train is nice and more convenient, but you can't beat the price of the bus," Villanova sophomore and D.C. native Nick Ruesch said, "plus it's always a fun ride."

New Century Travel and their competitors just around the block have stepped in to provide daily services between the three major cities with tremendous success.

Buses cater to decidedly multi-cultural crowd - businessmen, students, and music fans following a touring band may all sit in the same row on the ultra-diverse bus.

As universities come to a close in the early months of May, many students will be moving back home for the summer, and making plans to visit friends that live states away. What they can count on, thanks to the people in Chinatown, is a fair price, a quick ride, but most of all, a good time.