Of all America's budget-minded travelers, the indigent college student has led the way in discovery and innovation: from choosing destinations with ridiculously favorable exchange rates, to lodging in hostels, to living for free as volunteers. Now those same pioneers, bless 'em, have hit on a cheap, clean, and reliable mode of transportation closer to home: the "Chinatown shuttles" of the northeastern United States.
Created when second-generation Chinese-Americans started attending universities away from home, the buses ferried their first-generation parents, who spoke little English, from New York to Boston so they could deliver care packages (Momma's culinary goodies) to their children. The special round-trip fares for the Big-Apple-to-Beantown route still run as little as $25 on journeys originating in Boston, and for just a bit more (say $35 to $40 round-trip) from Manhattan, thus greatly underselling the established lines (Trailways, Peter Pan, Greyhound: $42 one way, $79 round-trip). That business model has since spread to other cities. A number of passengers (especially on the cheaper red-eye buses) are today itinerant restaurant workers who go wherever they are needed (have cell phone, will travel). Chinatown shuttles now operate between New York and six cities: Boston; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.;