New regulations allow D.C. to charge buses for using curb space starting this summer.
Near the corner of Sixth and H streets in Northwest D.C., a few people waiting on a bus to New York City. They have their luggage ready to go.
"If you look in the Washington, D.C., market, you can make a pretty good assumption that there's a bus leaving, I would say...every 20 minutes to New York City," says Pete Pantuso, head of the American Bus Association.
He says the competitively priced bus industry has thrived during the recession.
"People are looking for alternative ways to travel. The bus, all of a sudden, creates an alternative to air, maybe to rail, obviously to driving as well and paying the high tolls and the cost of gas," Pantuso says.
But these D.C.-to-New York bus companies can keep prices low because they don't need a bricks-and-mortar bus depot. They just use the curb for free. But not for long.
"There are no regulations and there's no cost associated with it -- that's an opportunity for growth. Which is fine, but from the city standpoint that puts us at a disadvantage in managing public space," says Euolis Cleckley, with the D.C. Department of Transportation.
Starting this summer, the District will have new regulations that allow it to charge bus companies a public space rental fee of $80,000 a year or more.
Pantuso says this fee will be passed along to the riders in the form of higher prices. And he says D.C. is using a booming local industry as an ATM.
"It's very, very clear that the District is looking for money," he says.
Cleckley, however, says it's not about the fees, it's about the principle.
"You as a private citizen parking at a parking meter, you're paying a rate to park at the curb. It's the same concept that exists for these carriers to operate off the curbside," Cleckley says.
Either way, one thing is clear: The days of hopping on a bus in Chinatown and head straight to the Big Apple for just a few dollars are probably numbered.