Chinatown bus lines are discount intercity bus services in the United States, often operated by Chinese Americans, primarily Fujianese. They operate with lower overhead and lower fares compared to competing services. Destinations include most major cities as well as casinos popular with Asian Americans.
As a result of safety issues and several fatal crashes, most Chinatown bus lines were shut down by regulatory authorities in 2012. Others continue to operate with increased oversight.
Chinese-operated intercity bus service began when the Chinese working class and new immigrants, particularly Chinese restaurant workers who found jobs in other cities, needed to travel to and from New York City, Boston, and Atlantic City. The first companies to offer Chinese intercity bus service had minimal features, including unmarked curbside bus stops and no advertising or customer service; this greatly reduced overhead costs. In 1998, two companies began operations: Fung Wah Bus Transportation, between New York and Boston, and Eastern Bus, between New York and Philadelphia. At first, very few non-Chinese made use of the services. As word spread, they became popular with non-Chinese travelers due to lower fares and the demographics of these bus lines became similar to those of other intercity bus lines.
Competition and price wars between newly successful companies, combined with online ticket sales, led to a reduction in fares. Service to smaller cities by Chinatown bus lines had less of a price advantage. The fierce competition led to gang violence in which rival bus operators killed or injured each other. Because of their low fares, Chinatown bus lines had very low profit margins; some went bankrupt and ceased operations. However, the services became more popular and the number of trips by Chinatown bus lines increased.
By 2006, many Chinatown bus lines operated service to/from casinos popular with Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants. All riders receive free-play vouchers, and some low-income or homeless people sell them before returning to New York.
By 2010, service expanded to many major cities across the U.S.
By 2012, riders of Chinatown buses made up over half the ridership of northeastern intercity buses, bringing annual intercity ridership to over 7 million passengers.
Double Happyness Travel, Inc. was shut down in December 2011 after it was called "an imminent hazard" by transportation officials.
On May 31, 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced the shutdown of Apex Bus, I-95 Coach, New Century Travel, and 23 related entities due to safety violations.
On March 2, 2013, the United States Department of Transportation shut down Fung Wah Bus Transportation because of its refusal to provide safety records. The company was later authorized to resume its bus operations but shut down anyways in 2015.
On May 25, 2013, a bus operated by Lucky Star was taken out of service when a manhole cover became lodged in its undercarriage. The company was shut down on June 5 due to "flagrant disregard for motor coach passenger safety". Lucky Star conducted an extensive bus upgrade and driver program, passed required inspections, and resumed operations in November 2013.
The shutdowns led to an increase in bus fares and some say the shutdowns were unnecessary. Jim Epstein, a writer for libertarian publication Reason, called the FMCSA practices overly harsh, writing that the agency targets Chinatown bus companies because owners are rarely fluent in English and alleging that inspectors were overly strict about defective components, confiscating several buses for minor issues.
Despite these shutdowns, in 2015, Chinatown bus lines operated 5.3 million passenger trips and 48.5 million annual miles of service, up 14% from 2013 and up 26% since 2008.
Among the crimes associated with gang activity was a deadly shooting in May 2003 on a busy street, which may have been in retaliation for a driver backing his bus into a rival; in revenge, two buses were set on fire the following year. Fatal stabbings occurred in October 2003 and in 2004. The boyfriend of a bus-company employee was fatally shot in an apparent bus feud in January 2004, and a Chinatown bus operator was shot to death two months later. In a June 2004 incident tied to criminal gangs, two people—a Chinatown bus driver and a bystander—were murdered in a bar in Flushing, Queens; another was shot in the leg. The accused shooter was arrested in Toronto in 2011, and was extradited to the United States. After the 2004 shootings, the New York City Police Department increased its enforcement of Chinatown-bus laws. Bus-feud crime subsided by 2007.
In 2013, police confiscated 254 guns and arrested 19 members of the largest gun-smuggling ring in New York City history; the suspects were accused of shipping guns via Chinatown bus lines. In 2020, Chinatown bus lines were again accused of being a conduit for gun trafficking.
Chinatown buses have been involved in several incidents, and there were 34 intercity bus crashes across the United States from 2001 to 2011. On a 2006 safety scale of 0 to 100, where 0 was the safest and 100 the most dangerous, Chinatown bus lines were rated between 71 and 99; Greyhound was rated 0. "Calculations of safety and risk are inverted," according to a 2013 City University of New York study. A report in 2011 found that curbside Chinatown buses were often more dangerous than buses that stop in terminals. As of 2011, many travelers were not discouraged. Intercity bus crashes are rare.
In February 2004, after several murders connected with employees of rival Chinatown bus companies, officials conducted a surprise inspection and seized buses.
In 2012, General Bus, a Chinatown bus line, was noted to have a safety record worse than 99.5% of other intercity bus lines.
In 2017, federal data showed that three Chinatown bus lines were among the worst safety violators among U.S. intercity bus lines.
Crashes and incidents
- February 8, 2003 – A bus operated by Dahlia transporting passengers to the Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City spun off the Garden State Parkway and flipped on its side on a snowy embankment, killing two people and injuring 28 people.
- 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 it burst into flames. No one was injured.
- August 16, 2005 – A New York-bound bus operated by Fung Wah Bus Transportation caught fire on Interstate 91 near Meriden, Connecticut. Although the passengers later criticized the driver for being unhelpful and untrained in evacuating the bus, no injuries were reported. After the August 2005 bus fire, the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy began conducting three surprise inspections per month on all bus companies leaving Boston's South Station terminal. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York proposed a four-point federal plan which would includes surprise inspections and a national safety standard for bus operators.
- August 15, 2006 – A Shun Fa bus traveling from New York to Pittsburgh crashed. Ten passengers were injured, five of whom were hospitalized, one in critical condition.
- September 6, 2006 – A bus operated by Fung Wah Bus Transportation rolled over in Auburn, Massachusetts, injuring 34 passengers. Excessive speed was cited as a factor and the bus company was fined.
- January 3, 2007 – A bus operated by Fung Wah Bus Transportation lost its back two wheels in Framingham, Massachusetts, early in a trip to New York. No injuries were reported.
- February 14, 2007 – A bus operated by Fung Wah Bus Transportation en route to New York went out of control and struck a traffic barrier on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I-90, in Allston. No injuries were reported. State officials had advised Fung Wah Bus Transportation to suspend operations because of a winter storm that day. Fung Wah reached an agreement with regulators in which its buses would be subject to inspections and driver checks for 30 days. The company agreed to improve safety, including removing unclean, unsafe buses from service.
- February 18, 2007 – A bus owned by Tremblay Motorcoach and 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 was unknown. The bus was returning to Chinatown, Boston from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
- March 23, 2007 – A New York-bound bus operated by Fung Wah Bus Transportation from Boston got stuck on a cement lane divider at a tollbooth on the Massachusetts Turnpike at Massachusetts Route 128 in Weston, Massachusetts, when the driver tried to change lanes. No one was injured, and passengers boarded a later bus.
- May 20, 2007 – A New York-bound bus crashed in Pennsylvania, killing 2 riders and injuring 32 more.
- June 23, 2008 – A bus loading passengers was struck by an out-of-control dump truck at the intersection of Canal Street and the Bowery in New York's Chinatown. The impact pushed the bus onto the sidewalk and into a bank. A sign attached to a light pole fell, injuring a 57-year-old woman who later died. Several people, including two police officers, were treated for minor injuries. State Department of Transportation inspectors found that the dump truck, owned by CPQ Freight Systems, had eight mechanical issues including faulty brakes which led to the crash.
- March 12, 2011 – World Wide Tours bus crash - A bus operated by World Wide Tours traveling to Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut crashed, killing 15 people. The crash was a result of driver fatigue. The driver was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted.
- March 14, 2011 – On the New Jersey Turnpike, a bus crash killed the driver and injured 40, two critically. In March 2011, these two crashes led officials to confiscate six buses for inadequate brake air pressure, steering violations, and missing driver paperwork.
- May 31, 2011 – A commercial tour bus operated by Sky Express crashed on Interstate 95, killing four people and injuring dozens.
- September 21, 2014 – A Chinatown bus overturned and killed two people and injured 48 people in Delaware.
- March 31, 2015 – A Chinatown bus hit and killed a pedestrian in Virginia.
- September 23, 2017 – A bus operated by Dahlia Group slammed into a city bus in Flushing, killing Dahlia’s driver, a city bus passenger, and a pedestrian, and injuring 16 people.
- January 5, 2020 – A Chinatown bus crash killed five people and injured over 60 people on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The curbside bus stops used by Chinatown bus lines led to many complaints from nearby residents and business owners due to noise, pollution, trash, blocked traffic, and sidewalk overcrowding. The complaints led to increased regulations in several cities, including permit requirements, bus stop requirements, fines and fees, as well as the construction of the Independence Transportation Center in Philadelphia. These regulations were also allegedly influenced by Peter Pan Bus Lines and Greyhound Lines, which face competition from Chinatown bus lines.
- Xe Đò Hoàng (lit. 'Hoàng Bus') or Hoang Express is an intercity bus service based in Orange County, California with a route connecting Little Saigon in Orange County with the community in San Jose.
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