Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Hipster Highway: New shuttle service to run from U Street to Brooklyn

October 13, 2010 - 03:20 PM
Text size Decrease Increase
Inside Theknowitexpress bus. (Photo courtesty Theknowitexpress)

UPDATE, 2:20 p.m. Thurs: Due to an outcry from hipsters and others, the Penn Station stop has been eliminated. The bus will run directly between U Street and Brooklyn.

ORIGINAL: As of Oct. 22 a new bus line will be running from U Street NW in Washington to the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. There are several things the operator guarantees you’ll find on board. Among them: Free wi-fi, a laptop borrowing service, room to stow a limited number of bicycles, and a comfortable and reasonably priced ride.

There are also several things the operator does not guarantee but that you’re likely to find on board nevertheless: Tapered black jeans, messenger bags, non-prescription vintage glasses, and iPods loaded with songs by this groundbreaking band that you’ve probably never heard of.

It’s been dubbed the Hipster Express, though in official company papers and on its website it’s better known as TheKnowItExpress.

Nichole Remmert, who’s handling PR for the folks behind the service, doesn’t embrace the line’s unofficial nickname but doesn’t exactly bat it down, either.

“We know the kind of people who live around U Street. They’re younger, more vibrant, more creative,” says Remmert. “Anybody is welcome, but it’s definitely more for the sort of folks who are interested in looking at things off the beaten path, interested in getting to know neighborhoods, and interested in scraping the surface and seeing more than the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument.”

TheKnowItExpress will start out as a weekend service running Friday through Monday. It will shuttle between the African-American Civil War Memorial side of the U Street Metro in D.C. and the Atlantic terminal at Flatbush and 4th avenues in Brooklyn, with what’s billed as a short stop at Penn Station in Manhattan in between. Fares will be a competitive $25 one-way and $45 round trip when purchased ahead of time, and the buses will be operated by Manassas, Va.,-based Capital Executives Transportation.

Asked why these two cities need yet another shuttle bus -- after all, BoltBus and Megabus run practically every hour, not to mention the Chinatown lines -- Remmert says that owner Shalonda Hunter, founder of D.C. culture-and-travel guide, feels there’s room to serve the young, non-touristy U Streeters who often wind up specifically in Brooklyn when they head north for the weekend. Or, as Remmert puts it, “the sort of demographic that’s not necessarily going to pick up a Fodor’s.”

To that end, the bus line plans on striking cross-promotional deals with bars and restaurants in D.C. and New York -- the sort of arrangement where your bus pass will get you a discounted meal or drink. Think Busboys, not Quizno’s. And as for the atmosphere on board, Remmert says you shouldn’t be surprised if it’s a tad more social than a Megabus redeye. Sort of like the way certain bars will put your iPod on the house speakers for a while, the driver just might play your DVD on the overhead televisions, so long as it satisfies group taste.

Ultimately, Remmert says, they’re looking to “link locals to locals,” to have “urban travelers” getting to know one another and sharing hard-won travel tips. “But if you hop on the bus and don’t want to talk, no one will force you into group fun,” she says.

As glutted as the D.C. shuttle scene feels, there just might be room for a niche competitor like this one. Even Dale Moser, CEO of Coach USA, which owns Megabus, says there’s an “unlimited market potential” when you consider how many people are looking to leave their cars at home and find more affordable ways to shuttle between eastern cities. Moser, whose company serves more than 40 cities, seems awfully unfazed when we ask for his take on the entrance of TheKnowItExpress into the NYC-D.C. market.

“What’s it called?” he asks, needing us to repeat the name. (He hasn’t heard of the Hipster Express, either.) “One more in the market just gives travelers more options,” he says. “We’re still seeing record growth month in and month out.”

According to Remmert, Hunter is hoping that the U Street and Columbia Heights crowds will like the idea of not having to head to downtown D.C. to catch a bus or take the subway out of Manhattan to get to their pals in Brooklyn. When we questioned the brevity of the required pit stop in Penn Station, Remmert says it will have to be brief, since “we’re not allowed to sit there. We’re not picking up passengers, only dropping off.” Anyone who would rather hop off in Manhattan will have that option.

And as for the bike storage, Remmert says it would be best to let them know ahead of time if you plan on bringing yours, since there could be space issues. But she assures that there will be no discrimination according to bike brand or style.

“It doesn’t have to be a fixie,” she says.

Read More: