Chinatown bus lines

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This article is about intercity bus travel. For Chinese-owned public transit within a single city, see Dollar van.
Passengers waiting at the Fung Wah Lines ticket window on Canal Street and the Bowery in Manhattan's Chinatown.

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] Some companies have been shut down either temporarily or permanently by regulatory authorities, while others continue to operate subject to increased safety checks. The low-overhead, low-fare services have been popular, helping to drive down the prices of competing services.

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

Fung Wah Bus Van Hool C2045 coach on a stopover

The first companies to offer such intercity bus services were the Fung Wah Bus, and the Eastern Shuttle, which in 1998 began routes between New York City, and Boston and Philadelphia, respectively.[2] The bus services originally transported workers in Chinese restaurants to and from jobs in Boston, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, and other cities. As word of these services spread, they became more popular with non-Chinese bargain-hunting travelers, many of them young.[3]

Also, some bus lines are 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, the services 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] Competition has come from Megabus, BoltBus, Washington Deluxe and Vamoose Bus, along with other companies.[6] Two of the operations were brought under Megabus operation, with the purchase of Eastern Shuttle and Today's Bus.[citation needed]

Eastern Shuttle MCI 102DL3 coach boarding customers in Manhattan.

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[edit]

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 associated with 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 victimized companies involved were not identified.[10]

Operation[edit]

Schematic of the main Eastern US Chinatown Bus Lines as of 2010, centralized in New York City as the hub.

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. In the I-5 corridor in California, similar services are found in the Hispanic community and provide transportation to/from Baja California, Mexico.

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.

Vehicles[edit]

Double Happiness #222 at Herald Square.

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.

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[edit]

Patterns[edit]

Bus ticket saleswoman at the corner of East Broadway and Forsyth Street in the Little Fuzhou neighborhood within Manhattan's Chinatown.

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.[citation needed]

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[edit]

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 then follow I-84 to I-91 to I-95. As I-95 approaches New York, several routings are possible depending on the traffic situation.[citation needed] Some drivers use the Throgs Neck Bridge to reach the Long Island Expressway, then to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and then Manhattan Bridge to Canal St. Other drivers use the Whitestone Bridge.[original research?] 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[edit]

Passengers waiting to board the Travel Pack bus in Manhattan, departing for Boston.

Chinatown buses have been involved in numerous accidents over the years. In March 2011, a crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx in March 2011 left 15 persons killed and more than 20 injured. The New York Police Department cracked down on mechanically defective buses after this crash and another fatal crash on the New Jersey Turnpike in March 2011, taking six off the road for inadequate brake air pressure, steering violations and missing driver paperwork.[1]

List of accidents[edit]

  • 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.
  • Also in March 2011, on the New Jersey Turnpike, a crash occurred in which the driver was killed and 40 injured, two critically.

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[edit]

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]

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] Lucky Star engaged in an extensive bus upgrade and driver program over the next five months, passed required inspections, and resumed operations in November, 2013.[30]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b El-Ghobashy, Tamer (16 March 2011). "NYPD Cracks Down on Buses". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Carpenter, Mackenzie (August 16, 2006). "'Chinatown bus services' have grown quickly since 1998". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. , Aug. 16, 2006
  3. ^ a b c Wilson, Michael (7 October 2011). "Crime Scene: Collateral Damage in the Chinatown Bus Wars". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Brulliard, Karin (November 24, 2006). "For Many Asians, an Atlantic City Pilgrimage". Washington Post. 
  5. ^ a b Schliefer, Theodore (2013-08-08). "Bus travel is picking up, aided by discount operators". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 25 August 2013. 
  6. ^ Gerson, Daniela (February 14, 2006). "If You Want To Vamoose in DeLuxe Style, You're in Luck". The New York Sun. 
  7. ^ Bailey, Steven (June 18, 2004). "Peter Pan is a bully". The Boston Globe. 
  8. ^ Harlan, Heather (2003-09-12). "Arsons May Signal Escalating NYC Shuttle Bus Feud". AsianWeek. Retrieved 2007-01-24. [dead link]
  9. ^ McPhee, Michelle; Alice McQuillan (2004-01-19). "Chinatown barrage stumps cops". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2007-01-24. 
  10. ^ "Feds' kung pow!". New York Post. October 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  11. ^ "cite". Baltimore Sun. [dead link]
  12. ^ Knafo, Saki (June 8, 2008). "Dreams and Desperation on Forsyth Street". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  13. ^ Ellement, John (2005-03-19). "Passengers Tell of Wild Bus Trip". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-01-24. 
  14. ^ Ross, Casey (2005-08-16). "Flames engulf Fung Wah bus in Connecticut". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-01-24. 
  15. ^ Cherasore, Paul (January 27 – February 2, 2006). "Day of confusion for Chinatown bus riders". Downtown Express. Retrieved 2007-01-24. 
  16. ^ "Bus Crash Injures Several, Causes Big Parkway Backups". The Pittsburgh Channel. August 15, 2006. 
  17. ^ Milan Simonich (August 16, 2006). "10 hurt as tour bus crashes". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  18. ^ "34 hurt, driver cited for Fung Wah bus rollover in Auburn". The Boston Globe. September 6, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-24. [dead link]
  19. ^ "Fung Wah bus company fined $31K for rollover". The Boston Globe. October 31, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-24. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Fung Wah Bus Loses Wheels". WCVB-TV. January 3, 2007. 
  21. ^ "Fung Wah Bus Crashes On Turnpike". WCVB-TV. February 14, 2007. 
  22. ^ LeBlanc, Steve (September 12, 2006). "Chinatown Bus Line Agrees to Inspections". Fox News. Associated Press. 
  23. ^ Kim Ring (February 19, 2007). "Passengers OK after bus fire on Turnpike". telegram.com. 
  24. ^ Ryan, Tim (March 23, 2007). "Fung Wah Bus Involved In Mishap". WCVB-TV. Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  25. ^ O'Leary, Lizzie (2005-09-15). "Chinatown Buses Seek to Add Safety to Savings". WNYC. Retrieved 2007-01-24. 
  26. ^ "Gov’t cracking down on unsafe bus companies operating along East Coast’s I-95 corridor". The Washington Post. 2012-05-31. Retrieved 2012-05-31. 
  27. ^ Feds close Fung Wah's doors
  28. ^ Raw Signal coverage of Fung Wah shutdown, including other stories
  29. ^ CBS's Boston Local blog, June 6, 2013
  30. ^ Boston Globe: Lucky Star buses will roll once more

External links[edit]