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'Chinatown buses' make no-frills inroads in Las Vegas-- LA Times
By Rosemary McClure, Times Staff Writer

May 17, 2007

They were an underground hit almost from the start.

The cut-rate transportation services called "Chinatown buses" originated about a decade ago in the Northeast. At first, they were an inexpensive way for Chinese restaurant workers to commute to jobs in nearby cities. Fares as low as $10 between New York and Boston were common.

Soon Chinese students began to hop aboard, and other students followed suit. Then savvy budget travelers noticed, and suddenly Greyhound was facing a new form of competition: low-overhead bus companies that thrived on a no-frills, shoestring approach to service.

Instead of picking up passengers at terminals, Chinatown buses picked them up and deposited them along curbsides; instead of maintaining ticket offices, they sold space online; instead of offering numerous routes, they offered only the most popular.

The bus lines, most of which are owned by Chinese immigrants, are common in the Northeast, but similar low-cost services also can be found in the West.

The online booking service launched five years ago by Cambridge, Mass., businessman Jimmy Chen, handles reservations and helped put the low-cost bus trend on the road. now accounts for 1,000 scheduled departures a day throughout the country. Besides the low-cost players it now takes reservations for major sightseeing companies, such as Gray Line.

The expansion offers travelers a range of travel options. "Some of the tours we list are twice as expensive as others," Chen said, adding that the hotels are usually the most important factor in price: Costlier tours stay at higher-end hotels.

But economy travelers can find a wealth of cut-rate deals on the website.

Riders can choose transportation alone, paying fares as low as $25 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas or $45 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Or they can choose vacations that include accommodations, such as a two-day trip from Los Angeles to Ensenada, Mexico, for $95; or a three-day trip from L.A. to San Francisco and Yosemite for $120.

Prices and tour components fluctuate the $99 Las Vegas-Grand Canyon itinerary described in the accompanying story, for instance, is now available from various companies for prices ranging from $114 to $127, but a different Vegas tour is available for $99 that includes two nights in Sin City.

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