Chicken truck

This article is about intercity bus travel. For Chinese-owned public transit within a single city, see Dollar van.


Chinatown bus lines are discount intercity bus services often run by Chinese Americans that have been established primarily in the Chinatown communities of the East Coast of the United States since 1998, although similar services have cropped up on the West Coast. The buses have been subject to controversy because of safety issues with two fatal accidents in March 2011.[1]

History

The first company to offer such intercity bus services was the Fung Wah Bus, which began routes between New York City and Boston in 1998.[2] The bus services originally transported workers in Chinese restaurants to and from jobs in Boston, Atlantic City, Washington, D.C., and other cities. As word of them spread, they became more popular with non-Chinese bargain-hunting travelers, many of them young. [3] Now, some bus lines are also used to transport large groups of mainly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants to and from casinos such as Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, which are located in Connecticut. These gambling buses built upon the popularity of older bus routes to Atlantic City that also targeted Asian American customers.[4]

Because of their low fares, they became popular among non-Chinese customers as well. Between 1997 and 2007, Chinatown buses took 60% of Greyhound Lines' market share in the northeast United States.[5] Recently, competition has come from Megabus, BoltBus, Washington Deluxe and Vamoose Bus, along with other companies.[6] Incidentally, two of the operations were recently brought under Megabus operation, with the purchase of Eastern Shuttle and Today's Bus.

Increasing popularity has also led to increasing regulatory interest. In September 2004, the city of Boston required all regularly scheduled intercity bus services to operate exclusively to and from the South Station transportation terminal. Steven Bailey of The Boston Globe suggested that the move was motivated by Peter Pan's and Greyhound's interest in maintaining their monopoly on the New York-Boston bus route, and Timothy Shevlin, executive director of the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, said, "The big dog out there, Peter Pan, is dead set against Chinatown bus lines. They don't want that kind of competition." A complication with this arrangement was that the South Station bus terminal has only 25 gates (along with two departure gates), all of which were used at the time until other companies left.[7]

Possible organized crime ties

The bus lines have drawn scrutiny from law enforcement authorities for possible connections to Chinese organized crime gangs. In 2003 and 2004, a number of bus arsons, driver assaults, and murders in New York City were linked to the possible infiltration of Asian organized crime gangs into the industry.[8][9]

Among the crimes believed to have been associated with gang activity were a fatal stabbing and shooting incident in 2003. The shooting, on a busy street, may have been in retaliation for a driver having backed his bus into a rival. In retaliation for the shooting, two buses were set ablaze in 2004. There was another stabbing in 2004.[3]

In another incident tied to criminal gangs, one man tied to the Chinatown bus lines was shot dead in a Flushing Chinatown bar in the New York City borough of Queens in June 2004. A bystander was killed and another was shot in the leg. The accused shooter was arrested in Toronto in 2011 and extradited to the United States.[3]

In 2008, the New York Post linked the "Banya Organization" gang with Chinatown buses. The gang allegedly inflicted brutal beatings to muscle in on private bus and van companies. The companies involved were not identified.[10]

Operation

In addition to Boston and the various Chinatowns within New York City and Long Island, New York, several bus line companies also link to the Chinatowns of Edison, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Doraville, in the Atlanta, Georgia area; and to the casinos of Atlantic City. On the West Coast, buses link the Chinatowns of the San Francisco Bay Area; Los Angeles Chinatown and the San Gabriel Valley; and Las Vegas' Chinatown and casinos.

Many competitors offer discount prices that undercut the major bus lines. Typical fares between East Coast cities range from $10 to $20. The industry has become highly competitive with companies offering hourly service between major cities.

The Appalachian extensions of these lines tend to offer less of a price advantage: In August 2006, one-way fares from New York to Pittsburgh on the Chinese-owned All State were $35 compared with $45 advance through Greyhound Lines, while tickets from State College, Pennsylvania, to New York were $35, compared to $46 for Greyhound.[2]

The bus routes have expanded with five bus companies now running between Manhattan Chinatown and Hampton Roads, Virginia, and two buses running to Richmond.

Fleet

The fleet used by various Chinabus companies can vary greatly from new coaches to older, pre-owned coaches, and with a few notable exceptions such as Eastern Shuttle and routes to Boston, not all units are branded with the operator name other than required USDOT markings, as shown to the right.

Spot hire/wet lease operations

With the exception of Eastern Shuttle and services to Boston (all of which use clearly marked buses), many Chinatown bus companies use wet leases to provide overflow capacity during the weekend. Some smaller companies use wet leases to provide their core capacity.[11] Typically, a bus (and a driver) would be chartered from a tour bus operator, a practice also used by mainstream companies such as Greyhound Lines during peak service.

Service

Chinatown buses run express service, usually making no stops between the departure and destination points. This typically results in shorter travel times. The trip from State College, Pennsylvania, to New York City takes about four hours on the Chinatown bus, compared to more than seven hours on Greyhound.

Often, ticket booths are walk-up windows on the street, or are located inside restaurants and bakeries throughout a given Chinatown community. Some lines even simply collect cash-payment after passengers have boarded the bus. However, tickets are often sold online, either by the bus companies themselves or by portals and print-outs of confirmation emails are used as tickets.

Except in Boston, the lines rarely use stations of their own. Passengers are usually directed to wait along a given curbside for the arrival of the bus, although many companies offer waiting areas at or near the pickup points. Several bus stops are also near major hotels and in the parking areas of major Chinese supermarkets. In New York, several bus lines pick up passengers on a stretch of Forsyth Street at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge in the Little Fuzhou neighborhood within Manhattan's Chinatown. Since 1998, when the New York City Department of Transportation marked the strip a bus layover area, the sidewalk between Division Street and East Broadway has served as a de facto terminal for the Chinatown buses.[12]

Routing

The majority of Chinatown buses have their base of operation in New York City. New York to Boston Chinatown buses generally use the Massachusetts Turnpike from Boston to I-84, and thence follow I-84 to I-91 to I-95. As I-95 approaches New York, several routings are possible depending on the traffic situation. Some drivers use the Throgs Neck Bridge to reach the Long Island Expressway, thence to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and then Manhattan Bridge to Canal St. Other drivers use the Whitestone Bridge.Template:Or Most drivers use the Triborough Bridge when traffic is not congested, and reach the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway via Astoria Boulevard.

Besides the routes within the major North Eastern cities, several Chinatown buses have daily routes that runs from New York City to Miami, Florida. The majority of the trip uses I-95 and stops are made near major cities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Florida. In order to save time, the buses never go into the city, instead they stop at gas stations and rest stops along I-95.

Some 'Casino Buses' use I-395 to make an intermediate stop at Foxwoods Resort Casino between the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-95.

Safety


The buses have been involved in numerous accidents over the years. Among them were a crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx in March 2011 in which 15 persons were killed and more than 20 injured, and another crash that month on the New Jersey Turnpike in which the driver was killed and 40 injured, two critically. The New York Police Department subsequently cracked down on mechanically defective buses, taking six off the road for inadequate brake air pressure, steering violations and missing driver paperwork.[1]

Other accidents have included:

  • On March 18, 2005, a Boston-bound Chinatown bus operated by Lucky Star/Travel Pack stopped and evacuated its passengers on the Massachusetts Turnpike shortly before bursting into flames. No one was injured.[13]
  • On August 16, 2005, a New York-bound Fung Wah bus caught fire on Interstate 91 near Meriden, Connecticut. Though the passengers later criticized the driver for being unhelpful and untrained in evacuating the bus, all passengers were eventually evacuated and no injuries were reported.[14]
  • On January 20, 2006, a surprise inspection on Forsyth Street in Manhattan's Chinatown resulted in two Washington-bound buses being pulled temporarily out of service and a driver running away from authorities.[15]
  • On August 15, 2006, a Shun Fa bus travelling from New York to Pittsburgh crashed; 10 passengers were injured, with 5 requiring hospitalization. One person was in critical condition.[16][17]
  • On September 6, 2006, a Fung Wah bus rolled over in Auburn, Massachusetts, and caused minor injuries to 34 passengers.[18] Excessive speed was cited as a factor and the bus company was fined.[19]
  • On January 3, 2007, a Fung Wah bus lost its back two wheels in Framingham, Massachusetts, early on a trip to New York. No injuries were reported.[20]
  • On February 14, 2007, a Fung Wah bus en route to New York lost control and hit a guardrail on the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) in Allston, Massachusetts. No injuries were reported. State officials had advised Fung Wah to suspend operations because of the winter storms that day.[21] Fung Wah reached an agreement with regulators under which its buses will be subject to scheduled and unscheduled inspections and driver checks for 30 days. The company also agreed to improve safety, including ceasing to use buses that have not been maintained in a safe and sanitary condition.[22]
  • On February 18, 2007, a bus (owned by Tremblay Motorcoach) operated by Sunshine Travel caught fire on the Massachusetts Turnpike near interchange 10A in Millbury, Massachusetts. All 50 passengers were evacuated and no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is unknown. The bus was returning to the Chinatown in Boston from Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.[23]
  • On March 23, 2007, a New York-bound Fung Wah bus from Boston got stuck on a concrete barrier in front of a tollbooth on the Massachusetts Turnpike at Route 128 in Weston, Massachusetts, when the bus drove up on a cement lane divider. The driver had entered an automobile-only lane and tried to change lanes. No one was injured in the incident, but the bus was taken out of service and passengers boarded another Fung Wah bus that arrived later.[24]
  • On March 12, 2011, a bus operated by World Wide Tours crashed on the New England Thruway, killing 15 people.

After the August 2005 incident, the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy instituted a policy of holding three surprise inspections per month on all bus companies that leave South Station in Boston. New York senator Chuck Schumer proposed a four-point federal plan that includes surprise inspections and creating a national safety standard for bus operators. New York may institute a similar policy; however, inspections would be difficult in New York because the buses do not all leave the city from the same location.[25]

Shutdowns

In 2012 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration began a crackdown on Chinatown bus lines.[5]

  • Apex Bus, Inc.

On May 31, 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that it had ordered the shutdown of Apex Bus, Inc., I-95 Coach Inc., New Century Travel Inc., and 23 other related entities due to safety violations.[26]

  • Fung Wah

On March 2, 2013, US Federal transportation officials shut down Fung Wah bus operations. "The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pulled Fung Wah’s operating license based on a new law that gives it the authority to shut down any company that fails to hand over safety records."[27][28]

  • Lucky Star

On June 5, 2013, Lucky Star was shut down as well. "Investigation uncovered egregious regulatory violations demonstrating Lucky Star’s flagrant disregard for motor coach passenger safety," said the letter from the Department of Transportation.[29]

See also

References

External links

  • Gotobus, updated in 2011.
  • NY Chinatown regional bus information.
  • Buy tickets for Chinatown Buses
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