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Brief History of Chinatown Bus

Copyright ę 2011 by GotoBus«, last updated in November 2011

Latest version of Chinatown Bus History has been moved to Jimmy's Blog

Free distribution of this article is granted on the condition of keeping above copyright notice with the article.

Author: Jimmy Chen, Ph.D. Blog

  • 1997-2001: Starting up

    New York has a lot of immigrants and many of them are Chinese immigrants. In the early years, Chinese restaurants were popular career choices for Chinese immigrants. While Chinese restaurant business could not grow unlimitedly, some Chinese immigrants sought their opportunities in other industries.

    One of the successful industries created during this period is the famous Chinatown Bus. At the beginning, vans were used for shuttle services between New York Chinatown and Brooklyn. Among several bus operators, Fung Wah bus, Sunshine Travel and Travel Pack (whose line run business later was merged to Lucky Star) were popular bus service providers between New York and Boston. The majority of Chinatown Bus customers were Asian in this period.

    Major Event: 9/11 changed bus travel industry in two ways: the long security wait converted some air travelers to bus travelers; and many tour operators abandoned tour business to pick up inter-city (aka Line Run) bus services.

  • 2002: Beginning of Online Ticketing and Hello to Main-Stream Customers

    In the Spring of 2002, GotoBus.com (formerly known as ivymedia.com) helped Travel Pack start the first online ticketing service to enter the main-stream market. In the Summer of 2002, Sunshine, Fung Wah and Dragon Coach worked with GotoBus.com to market and ticket their bus services online.

    During this period, Chinatown bus lines experienced phenomenal growth in its popularity. Sunshine, Travel Pack and Fung Wah Bus were expanding quickly while Dragon Coach and New Century started bus lines from New York to Washington DC and New York to Philadelphia. Online ticketing introduced Chinatown Bus companies to mainstream customers in addition to Asian customers.

  • 2003 - Mid 2005: Quick Expansion and Internal Competition

    The infusion of mass market, a direct effect of online ticketing by GotoBus.com, led to the quick expansion of Chinatown bus lines that include many popular operators like Eastern Travel, New Century and Today's Bus, arisen as major bus service providers between New York and Washington DC.

    The bus lines between Boston and New York however suffered big losses due to an unthinkable price war that lasted more than a year. During this difficult period, a one-way ticket between Boston and New York dropped to $10 per ticket. As a result, Sunshine voluntarily gave up this route while the line run business of Travel Pack was merged to Lucky Star that entered this business in early 2003.

    The route between New York and Washington DC also had price wars periodically but each could not last for more than two months. Several violence reports surfaced relating to a few Chinatown bus lines and some of their owners. The violence went away around 2004 while competition amongs Chinatown Bus lines continued.

    As the result of a lawsuit brought by Peter Pan Bus line, starting from September 2004 the City of Boston no longer allowed Chinatown bus lines to pick up and drop off customers in the curbside of Boston Chinatown. The Chinatown bus lines operating from Boston and the business in Boston Chinatown were affected.

  • Mid 2005 - Early 2008: Getting Professional as a Contender in the US Inter-City Bus Services

    A bus accident changed the fates of many Chinatown bus owners in the summer of 2005. A bus from a major Chinatown bus line caught fire on I-91. Fortunately, all passengers were safely evacuated before the fire gets worse. One may think that it should have feared better than Greyhound when its fatigue driver crashed a bus and killed two people in California around the Thanksgiving holiday.

    All of the sudden, local and state government in New York, led by senator Schumer, started to impose strict regulations on Chinatown bus lines, including surprise inspections and forced disclosures, among others.

    Whether this treatment was fair or not, Chinatown bus lines had no choice but to improve their safety measures and the quality of services to meet strict government regulations and to attract repeating and new customers. Even under massive media coverages on police crack down, consumers continue to endorse Chinatown bus lines, as evidenced by online ticketing traffic by the largest bus ticketing service at gotobus.com, which was named 'Best of the Web' by The Washington Post in February 2007. The very existence and the growth of Chinatown bus lines reflect the need from consumers on this type of services. Consequently Chinatown bus lines got much more professional as a strong contender in the US inter-city bus business.

    Here is a sample comparison: On January 11, 2008, Greyhound/PeterPan listed 33 schedules departing New York City to Washington, DC, while GotoBus.com listed 55 such schedules.

  • April 2008 - Feb 2011: Competing with Major Bus Operators and Expanding Coverage

    After long and exhausted lobbying failure against curbside bus companies, Greyhound and Peter Pan bus reversed their position and jointly formed, in April 2008, a curbside bus line, BoltBus, in hope to recover some lost market share to Chinatown bus and to fender off the anticipated entry of MegaBus that competes with Greyhound in the Mid-West region. In May 2008, megabus also started the bus operations in the East Coast. Both of these two companies use 'From $1' as the marketing bait to attract new customers. Some Chinatown bus lines matched the 'From $1' marketing model and others continued their fix price model. A dynamic price war started among all bus service providors.

    Major Event: Record-high oil price brought in record-high ridership. The US inter-city bus industry is embracing both high growth of ridership and fiercer competition. Chinatown bus continues to be an important part of this industry.

    Major Event: Eastern Travel and Todays Bus were acquired by CoachUSA to become part of MegaBus in late 2008 and early 2009. In the mid-2009, MegaBus sold Eastern Travel and TodaysBus back to a group of owners (some of them previously owned Eastern and TodaysBus).

    While attracting more customers by matching value-added services like WiFi on board, Chinatown Bus keeps expanding to other cities, like Chicago, cities inside Ohio, North Carolina and South Carolina, Florida and Arizona. Detailed coverage map can be found from Bus Coverage Map to find all cities and routes.

  • March 2011 - Present: Accidents, DOT/FMCSA, Media Reports

    A fatal accident occured on March 12, operated by World Wide Bus which is NOT owned by Chinese immigrants, resulted in 15 deaths. Many media reports, including Wikipedia, attributed this accident to Chinatown Bus (Wiki's mistake was corrected subsequently). The day before, a BoltBus driver was caught at DWI. DOT and its safety agency FMCSA stepped up their security checks and tightened its regulations and put many buses and drivers off the highway. Despite some disruption of the regular business (delays of schedules and replacement of problem buses or drivers), most Chinatown bus operators recognized the importance of safety and cooporated with DOT/FMCSA to improve their safety standard.

    On May 31, 2011, one of Sky Express' buses had another fatal accident to incur 4 passenger deaths. Sky Express, the arguebly fastest growing Chinatown bus company, or a mini-Greyhound, was met by the fate of out-of-service order from DOT's FMSCA. This accident is very similar to the fatal accident by Greyhound. Sky Express followed the DOT's request to stop all bus operations from the same day.

    News media about this accident was everywhere. Numerous errors by media stirred public sentiment, such as equating Sky Express with its competitor I95Coach, classifying World Wide Bus as Chinatown Bus. It appears that Chinatown Bus' fate is at the cross road. However, whether you name it Chinatown bus today or name Peter Pan bus as Italian bus 40-50 years ago, they are bus companies in the US, subject to regulations and rules under DOT. There are good companies in Chinatown bus and all bus companies in the US; there are bad companies in Chinatown bus and all bus companies in the US. In fact, MegaBus bought two Chinatown bus companies in 2008-2009 period.

    Safety should always be the first for all insdustries, especially for transportation industry.

    Bus industry is environment friendly and needs nurture by operators, consumer and government agencies to provide a safe way of transportation.

    On June 4, 2011, IvyMedia Corp/GotoBus.com/TakeTours.com, the Expedia for bus and tour services, received a witness subpoena from DOT/FMCSA, in connection with Sky Express' invetigation. News media has published many articles about horrible accusations. 'The United States looks like a third world country', one reader commented. Indeed: while DOT is inspecting tightly on its safety meastures, it and some news agencies still believe that someone is still running illegal bus operations. While domains like 108bus.com/108tours are singled out as suspicious websites to support illigal bus operations, news agencies have no interest to validate with the domain owner who is publicly listed on these domains. Instead, a lot of news agencies published relavent articles, such as Richmond Time Dispatch, refused to correct obvious errors even repeatedly requested by IvyMedia Coporation, based on speculative information.

    A simple phone call could validate an issue but no one is willing to verify. A lot of rumors are circulating in the media.

    On October 12, 2011, National Transportation Safety Board published a Report on Curbside Motoraoch Safety. In that study, curbside bus operators, led by BoltBus and MegaBus, are shown to have a death rate to 1.4% vs. conventional 0.2%. However, smaller media agencies replace "Curbeside Bus" by "Chinatown Bus" in their headlines to public (see an example: Chinatown bus deaths are city's highest). Why not replace 'Curbeside Bus' by 'BoltBus' before publishing these articles?

  • Is Chinatown Bus Legal?

    In November 2007, GotoBus.com worked with DOT FMCSA on the complaints from unidentified sources against two 'Chinatown Bus' companies. The complaints allege that these two companies do not have authority to conduct the bus business. GotoBus.com contacted both companies and found that these two companies contract other charter bus companies for the actual bus operations (one company charters from a third-party bus company, the other charters from a company which is owned by themselves). The DOT numbers and insurances of their chartered bus companies were well documented in DOT published website. Although DOT did not want to make a decision on these complaints based on GotoBus' investigation, DOT found that these charter companies have proper license and insurance, unlike the original claims.

    The competitions between big bus service providers and Chinatown Bus are all over the public domain. Big companies tend to mobilize more resources, from federal government to local government, to place obstacles on smaller operators like Chinatown Bus. Fortunately, the public has been endorsing smaller operators due to their service quality and prices. The spirit of entrepreneurship is always booming in the United States.

  • Relation between GotoBus and Chinatown Bus

    Similar to Expedia to resell airline tickets, GotoBus resells bus tickets for bus companies. GotoBus does not restrict itself within a certain type of bus companies. Some Chinatown bus companies work with GotoBus to resell their bus tickets while others do not.

Coverage of Chinatown Bus Lines (also see Coverage Map or Bus Search)

In the northeastern area, in addition to popular Boston - New York, New York - Washington DC, the coverage expands to Hartford, CT (by Boston Deluxe), Philadelphia (by New Century Travel Bus), Baltimore (by AABus). The lines extend to Virginia (by NY Tiger Travel, Today's Bus and Coach88), North Carolina and South Carolina (by Sky Express - suspended on May 31, 2011 by DOT, I95Coach). Today's Bus even offers the bus service between New York and Atlanta. AABus provides daily bus service between New York and Albany. All State Bus runs a very popular bus services between New York City and State College, PA. The chinatown bus also covers between New York City and Chicago.

In the West Coast, Chinatown bus lines are best known to cover four major cities: the bus service connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco is provided by USAsia; USAsia, American Lion Bus have regular bus services between Los Angeles and Las Vegas; USAsia has additional bus service between San Francisco and Reno, NV. Tufesa Bus started bus services between Phoenix, AZ and Los Angeles among other routes.

Disclaimer: GotoBus.com currently provides online ticketing services for most Chinatown bus lines and other bus lines operated by non-Chinese, such as DC2NY and Washington Deluxe. Should you have more detailed information towards Chinatown bus lines, please contact chinatownbus@gotobus.com so we can provide more accurate information.