Bus company sells $1 tickets between New York and Washington

As if in answer to prayers for transportation savings, another low-cost shuttle bus service has started operations between New York City and Washington, DC. This one is called Tripper Bus, and it started driving on Friday. Initial fares for the earliest bookers for each one-way trip are just $1 as long as you're the first to make a reservation for a given run. Then tickets rise to $5 and $10, and finally top out at $25 one-way. The shuttle runs between Arlington, VA, or Bethesda, MD, and New York City.

Although West Coasters have tried and failed to get similar systems off the ground, East Coasters know and love these multiplying bus companies, which became popular for students between who needed to jaunt between Manhattan and Boston cheaply. In the beginning, they were called "Chinatown shuttles" because that's literally what they did: linked Asian neighborhoods in both cities for nearly nothing ($15 is a standard fare.) Unlike its predecessors, this one's Manhattan stop is centrally located: right outside of Macy's in Midtown.

Nowadays, even the major national bus operators are running their own competitive versions, and the vehicles have gone from ramshackle vans to cruising motor coaches with power outlets for laptops and free wireless access (although that's usually painfully slow). As Delta reduces its DC shuttle service and businessmen eschew the expense of the not-really-high-speed Acela train service linking Manhattan and the capital, we're seeing these coach lines multiply to the point where they've become a dominant way of getting around the Eastern megalopolis (I rounded up links to a few of the major names for this blog a few months ago).

Amtrak still stinks, and the bailout package isn't doing much to fix it. What America really needs is a complete overhaul of its train infrastructure--total right-of-way for our passenger trains would be the best start, so we don't have to share with creeping freight lines. But when the iron was hot and the moment was right to forge a new alternative to our car addiction, Congress simply stuck a $450 million Band-Aid on our pathetic rail system, and even that amount is earmarked for security.

Weaning people off cars isn't that hard to do, especially when driving becomes as ridiculously expensive as it was last summer. In Los Angeles, the appearance of a subway system has transformed dreary, dangerous intersections into thriving new developments. Wherever the new stations appear, such as in Koreatown, whole areas rise from the ashes and benefit. Train systems can even make money. In France, a country the size of Texas, the national rail system turned a $1.75 billion profit in 2007.

Until the business-as-usual politicians come to their senses and build an America that we can use tomorrow, dig that George Washington out of your pocket and prepare to hail the discount buses. It seems backwards to admit that they're the American travel mode of the future.
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