Chinatown Bus Lines Are A Budget Travelers Dream

A Guide to​ the​ Chinatown Bus

The word is​ out—the cheapest way to​ get from one major U.S. city to​ another is​ on​ the​ “Chinatown bus”. in​ recent years this has become transportation option of​ choice for budget travelers in​ New York,​ Washington DC,​ and Boston,​ and more recently on​ the​ West Coast. Students,​ backpackers,​ and an​ array of​ other savvy travelers have long loved the​ rock bottom prices that these bus companies offer. Despite the​ popularity of​ these bus lines it​ can still be difficult to​ find information on​ Chinatown bus service.
What exactly is​ a​ “Chinatown Bus”? Read on​ and you​ will have the​ inside track on​ this great budget travel option.

Chinatown Bus history

The Chinatown bus phenomenon began in​ the​ late 1990s when an​ entrepreneur in​ New York’s Chinatown started running daily bus service from Chinatown in​ New York to​ Chinatown in​ Boston. the​ service was aimed at​ Asian immigrants who wanted to​ shop or​ visit relatives in​ either city and needed cheap and convenient transportation. the​ service was bare bones—no advertising,​ customer service,​ or​ bus stations. Customers simply went to​ the​ bus stop,​ waited for the​ bus (or van),​ and paid the​ driver upon boarding. For those willing to​ do without frills,​ they offered virtually the​ same service as​ traditional bus companies at​ a​ substantially lower price. Before long,​ the​ word spread and all kinds of​ people started using the​ service. it​ became especially popular with students,​ budget travelers,​ or​ people for whom the​ service was simply more convenient.

Soon more bus companies duplicated this model and started offering service in​ other cities. Now you​ can find this type of​ bus service in​ Philadelphia,​ Virginia,​ Baltimore Washington DC,​ Los Angeles,​ Las Vegas and San Francisco. at​ this point the​ term “Chinatown bus” is​ used more loosely to​ describe this sort of​ low-cost/low-frills service. Many,​ if​ not most,​ of​ the​ companies do not have Chinatown as​ their main location and may not cater to​ the​ immigrant population at​ all. These operators are also sometimes referred to​ as​ “curbside” operators.

How can tickets be so cheap?

$15 between New York to​ Boston? $25 from Las Vegas to​ Los Angeles? it​ seems hard to​ fathom. Chinatown bus companies are able to​ keep prices low because they operate in​ a​ fundamentally different way from traditional carriers. Foremost,​ the​ service is​ very basic. There is​ little in​ the​ way of​ customer service or​ amenities. Most of​ these operators do not have formal stations,​ picking up passengers at​ bus stops instead. They eschew traditional advertising in​ favor of​ word of​ mouth. Further,​ many of​ the​ operators play a​ very hands-on role in​ the​ operation—you will not see idle executives at​ a​ small independent bus company. Finally,​ these operators make sure they fill their buses. That is​ why Chinatown bus operators usually only operate on​ heavily trafficked routes. Indeed some companies only run buses at​ peak times.

Are they safe?

When these companies first started operating,​ concerns were raised about safety standards. There is​ still controversy within the​ bus industry about whether these newcomers are complying with the​ same regulations as​ the​ traditional companies. However,​ a​ task force set up by the​ Federal government to​ look at​ safety issues found that Chinatown bus companies did not perform better or​ worse than other types of​ bus companies (ie. charter,​ tour buses). All bus companies operating in​ the​ U.S. must undergo the​ same inspection standards and must comply with the​ same rules. Realistically there is​ probably a​ range of​ quality among Chinatown bus carriers. Some are fly-by-night operators trying to​ make a​ fast buck,​ while others are legitimate entrepreneurs who plan to​ grow and operate a​ long term business.

What you​ should expect

  • No frills service—the driver may be the​ ticket collector; there will not be a​ lot of​ customer service.

  • Comfortable buses. Despite the​ low fares buses are usually quite nice. Most buses are comparable to​ Greyhound and many are actually more deluxe.

  • Communication challenges. Drivers are legally required to​ speak enough English to​ help passengers in​ the​ case of​ emergency. in​ reality this is​ often adhered to​ rather loosely. at​ the​ very least,​ expect your driver to​ have an​ accent.

  • Possible delays. Many of​ these bus routes are on​ highly congested roads. When the​ roads are busy,​ expect delays.

  • Rest stops. Buses will have a​ lavatory on​ board but there is​ usually a​ 10 or​ 15 minute bathroom break on​ trips over 4 hours. Don’t be late returning to​ the​ bus,​ the​ driver will not count heads before leaving at​ the​ appointed time.

  • Full buses. Buses definitely sell out at​ peak times (weekends and evenings). Book ahead or​ get there early if​ you​ want secure a​ seat.

  • Plastic Bags. an​ odd little quirk on​ Chinatown buses is​ that every aisle seat usually has a​ plastic grocery bag tied to​ the​ arm. I guess they find this is​ the​ best way to​ keep the​ buses clean.

How do I find the​ Chinatown Bus?

Again,​ “Chinatown bus” is​ a​ term used to​ describe a​ type of​ operator and not an​ individual bus company. Many unrelated bus companies fall into this category. Since most Chinatown buses do not spend money on​ advertising it​ can be difficult to​ find out details about schedules and bus stop locations. Many of​ the​ carriers are becoming savvier about the​ Internet and quite a​ few have websites with information. Usually an​ Internet search will yield links to​ bus service to​ your destination. There are also several directories,​ such as​ that include links for most Chinatown bus companies and the​ author’s employer,​,​ is​ a​ centralized booking site that has schedules and sells tickets online for most Chinatown bus companies.

The Chinatown bus is​ not for everyone. if​ you​ want an​ orderly system with American style customer service,​ you​ should probably stick to​ traditional carriers. However,​ if​ you​ know what to​ expect and come prepared with a​ sense of​ adventure and humor,​ you​ should enjoy the​ trip just fine. you​ will also enjoy the​ money you​ save!
Chinatown Bus Lines Are A Budget Travelers Dream Chinatown Bus Lines Are A Budget Travelers Dream Reviewed by Henda Yesti on July 21, 2018 Rating: 5

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