Online travel guide firm Knowit to add intercity bus service

Knowit bus line founder, Shalonda Hunter, at the location of U and Vermont St. where her bus will be departing from in Washington,DC.
Knowit bus line founder, Shalonda Hunter, at the location of U and Vermont St. where her bus will be departing from in Washington,DC. (Jeffrey MacMillan - Jeffrey MacMillan For Washington Post)
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By Danielle Douglas
Monday, September 20, 2010

Almost two years after launching her online travel guide, the Knowit, Shalonda L. Hunter has decided to no longer just tell you where to go, but also get you there. The D.C. native is starting her own bus line, the Knowit Express, scheduled for its inaugural trip next month.

Hunter has teamed with Alexandria's Capital Executive Transportation, which will lease her one 55-seat charter bus for weekend trips between the District and New York City. Unlike the pack of coach buses that arrive and depart from the parking lot at 10th and H streets NW, the Knowit Express will depart from U Street. The artsy enclave, Hunter said, offers a built-in consumer base of young urban professionals and Howard University students, without the congestion of downtown. Instead of arriving in Midtown Manhattan like other companies, the new bus line will be heading to the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

"If we can bring people into more urban environments, outside of the normal drop-off and pickup points, then people get to see a little bit more of the flavor of the place," said Hunter. "We're picking exciting, vibrant communities that can also serve bus travelers' needs."

The Knowit Express is the latest entry into a growing private bus market.

Intercity bus service has expanded 5.1 percent in the past year, while rail and airline travel has waned, according to the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. Some 3,900 privately operated motor coach companies, according to the National Bus Association, run the roads in the United States, generating nearly $112.7 billion in total economic activity in 2009.

In the District, there are about five charter bus companies that operate daily trips. Greyhound largely dominated the scene until the advent of the cheaper Chinatown Bus in the late 1990s. The start-up's business model of limited regional service in urban areas spawned the ever-popular Megabus, Bolt and DC2NY.

Megabus, owned by Coach USA, and Bolt, the offspring of Greyhound, have the financial backing of deep-pocketed parent companies. Hunter does not. But she is confident that her multi-prong travel approach -- guides, rides and all -- will set her apart from the competition.

To start, the Knowit Express will provide morning and evening service from Friday to Monday, at a cost of $25 one way and $45 for a roundtrip ticket, comparable to discount lines Bolt and Megabus. Passengers will be able to purchase tickets online, once Web site goes live in a week, or at the site of departure for an additional $5. By enlisting the help of Capital Executive and starting off with one bus, Hunter said she has kept her operational costs fairly low, passing the savings along to passengers.

As an added benefit, Hunter is working to secure 10 percent to 20 percent discounts for passengers at stores and restaurants in the District and New York City. The bus line will pick up near the U Street Metro stop and let off across from the Atlantic Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, a gateway for several train lines.

"Travelers are looking for an experience. And that's what we're trying to provide," she said.

Down the road, Hunter hopes to expand the bus line to include a stop in Harlem, a more extensive schedule and neighborhood tours. "I want to be in the business of helping people to get to know cities," she said.

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