The Chinatown Bus Is On the Road Again

The Chinatown Bus Is On the Road AgainChinatown bus lines were an invention of the late 1990s and were born out of necessity. In order to provide Chinese workers with an inexpensive option to travel to and from work in other cities, several Chinatown bus operators launched connections predominantly in the Northeast with New York City serving as the most important transport hub. Chinatown bus operators like Fung Wah Bus and Eastern Shuttle quickly gained popularity and led to a resurrection of the then declining American intercity bus market as a whole. Between 1960 and 1990 the overall ridership had dropped from 140 million to a mere 40 million passengers per year.

The cheap tickets for Chinatown buses served as the basis for the launch of new low-cost operators such as megabus US and forced the traditional bus operator Greyhound to step up its game, resulting in increased ridership. However, in 2012 and 2013 the end of the Chinatown bus era seemed to have arrived as the federal government shut down the operations of some bus providers due to safety concerns. While this was a setback to the market, the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University claims that the industry has recovered. In 2015, about 5.3 million passengers made use of Chinatown bus lines, which offer about 600 trips per day, estimates the Chaddick Institute. This means an increase in ridership by 0.7 per cent in the last two years.

Joseph Schwieterman, director at the Chaddick Institute, points out that Chinatown buses have successfully adapted to the needs of the modern traveler. Bus operators have refrained from fixed prices and instead started offering flexible rates and the possibility to book in advance and to pay via credit card. In addition, more and more bus companies have started branding their buses in order to create a lasting bond with the customer. On-board service has improved as well: Instead of a simple bus ride, passengers can now expect free WiFi from most of the Chinatown bus operators. What surprised Schwieterman most, however, is that Chinatown bus lines are no longer restricted to short-distance intercity routes in the Northeast. Further distances and unusual destinations such as Florida or Upstate New York are no longer the exception to the rule. Even when choosing a typical Greyhound bus route, such as Los Angeles – Las Vegas, the traveler can now opt for Chinatown buses such as American Lion Bus.

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