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Chinatown Bus Lines are a Budget Traveler’s Dream

November 19th, 2022

A Guide to the Chinatown Bus

The word is out–the cheapest way to get from one major U.S. city to another is on the “Chinatown bus”. In recent years this has become transportation option of choice for budget travelers in New York, Washington DC, and Boston, and more recently on the West Coast. Students, backpackers, and an array of other savvy travelers have long loved the rock bottom prices that these bus companies offer. Despite the popularity of these bus lines it can still be difficult to find information on Chinatown bus service.
What exactly is a “Chinatown Bus”? Read on and you will have the inside track on this great budget travel option.

Chinatown Bus history

The Chinatown bus phenomenon began in the late 1990s when an entrepreneur in New York’s Chinatown started running daily bus service from Chinatown in New York to Chinatown in Boston. The service was aimed at Asian immigrants who wanted to shop or visit relatives in either city and needed cheap and convenient transportation. The service was bare bones–no advertising, customer service, or bus stations. Customers simply went to the bus stop, waited for the bus (or van), and paid the driver upon boarding. For those willing to do without frills, they offered virtually the same service as traditional bus companies at a substantially lower price. Before long, the word spread and all kinds of people started using the service. It became especially popular with students, budget travelers, or people for whom the service was simply more convenient.

Soon more bus companies duplicated this model and started offering service in other cities. Now you can find this type of bus service in Philadelphia, Virginia, Baltimore Washington DC, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. At this point the term “Chinatown bus” is used more loosely to describe this sort of low-cost/low-frills service. Many, if not most, of the companies do not have Chinatown as their main location and may not cater to the immigrant population at all. These operators are also sometimes referred to as “curbside” operators.

Ground Transportation From Baltimore Washington Airport (BWI) to Washington, DC

April 22nd, 2022

If your travel budget is tight and you are flying to Washington, DC, landing at Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) may be your best bet. As a rule, the cheapest flights into Washington land at BWI, which is Washington’s third airport after Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Washington Dulles International (IAD). BWI is less expensive mainly because it is a Southwest hub. However, if you use BWI, you then have the challenge of finding transportation to Washington, DC. Inexpensive ways to get to Washington include taking: (1) the B30 express bus to the DC Metro subway system and (2) a shuttle bus from BWI to the nearby train station and then taking a train to Washington’s Union Station.

Express Bus Service to the Greenbelt Metro Station

Bus B30 runs non-stop between BWI and the Greenbelt Metro Station, the last stop on the Green Line, giving you easy access to most of the Washington, DC area, including nearby suburbs. Currently, the bus fare is $6, and you pay when you get on the bus. You need to have exact change available. To the $6 you have to add metro fare which varies by how far you travel and the time of day, but the fare from Greenbelt to downtown DC is in the $2.75-$4.60 range. There are vending machines at the Metro station for purchasing fare cards. Having a roll on bag should not pose too much of a problem. The B30 has a luggage rack.

The B30 bus runs about every 40 minutes. Most of the 40 minutes is required to reach the metro. If you are going to arrive at BWI at an odd hour, you may want to check with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Web site for the B30 bus schedule.

Both BWI stops for the B30 are located on the lower, baggage claim level. For the first stop, exit door number 2, which is in the Concourse A-B area near baggage claims 1-4. This area is dedicated to Southwest Airlines. When you exit the baggage claim area you will see two lanes of traffic in front of you and then a pedestrian island. Beyond the pedestrian island are more traffic lanes. Cross over to the pedestrian island and turn left. The Regional Bus shelter is about 500 feet down from door 2. At the shelter you should be able to find the schedule for the B30. For the second stop, exit door 17. Again, the Regional Bus shelter is on the pedestrian island. The shelter is between doors 17 and 18.

Train Service from BWI to Washington’s Union Station

In lieu of taking B30 to the Metro, you may want to take the complimentary Amtrak/MARC shuttle bus to the nearby train station. From the train station you can take either an Amtrak train or during the week you can take a MARC train (Maryland Rail Commuter Service). Both Amtrak and MARC service Union Station in downtown Washington as well as many other destinations in Maryland and, with Amtrak, beyond. At this writing, the fare to Union Station on the MARC is $6 ($3 for senior citizens). Amtrak trains are considerably more expensive (around double) and can be very expensive if you take one of the Acela Express trains, which are only slightly faster from BWI to DC. So during the week you may want to consider the MARC trains. By the way, if you don’t have time to purchase a ticket for a MARC train, you can buy a ticket from the conductor but you will have to pay a service fee of $3. You will need cash (no bills greater than $20 accepted).

At BWI you can access the Amtrak/MARC shuttle busses from the lower level baggage claim/transportation area. Look for signs to rail and parking shuttles. Ignore signs to “Light Rail,” which is a separate service to Baltimore. There are four shuttle bus stops that ring the horseshoe-shaped airport. You can access the bus stops through doors 2, 9, 15, or 17. Once on the curb look for a sign post for parking and rail shuttles. It will not be directly in front of you as you leave the baggage claim area, so look to the left and right. Expect to wait up to 25 minutes for a shuttle bus. The train station is about a mile from the airport. When you get to the station you can purchase a ticket to DC. Then all you have to do is make sure you get on the train to Union Station.