Chinatown bus update

Hubby and I got back from a trip to New York tonight. We took the bus both ways.

Bus travel in the northeast corridor got a new lease on life several years ago when a number of bus companies, based out of Chinatowns and catering originally to kitchen workers, attracted non-Chinese riders. (I was an early adopter, even making one leg from New York to Boston in a van. But for $15 I wasn’t complaining.) This created waves of intra-Chinatown competition, followed by non-ethnic-Chinese imitators in the charter bus business and most recently as low-cost “establishment” players entered the market. The highway back tonight had a constant stream of Megabus, Bolt, Eastern and other smaller carriers. Linking Washington and Baltimore to Philadelphia and New York, and onwards to Boston is no longer news. And if you pay more than $25 one-way to New York from Washington, you’re getting ripped off. And it had better have wifi.

The news is that, from Manhattan’s Chinatown at least, the network is spreading. Granted, two or three years ago, I noticed some small signs on Chrystie Street (map) in Chinese noting locations (in English) in the Midwest. I assumed then this was the kitchen worker shuttle continuing farther than many other riders would suffer, and now I’m sure.

On East Broadway and Allen Streets, there are now buses that will take you to small regional destinations like Smyrna and Dover, Delaware and in the south as far as the Carolinas, Georgia and as far as Biloxi, Mississippi. I was tooling around this neighborhood last night and asked some people outside one of the ticket offices where there were going and how they found the service. Well, only one had a first-hand opinion for the trip to Greenville, South Carolina but each had some experience with a different run, including one who went to Pittsburgh. The verdict. It’s cheap and faster than driving.  And, perhaps like me, they enjoy the flexibility (you can often just walk up and pay with cash) and are willing to sacrifice some comfort to do without the increasingly unpleasant experience of air travel. And I should note, everyone I spoke with was African American. These routes had already jumped away from being a kitchen worker shuttle.

Now, I should note that Megabus, a British company running on a similar model, recently expanded service from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte and other places due south, but not as far as Greenville. But now I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time. And with similar, smaller networks hubbed out of Chicago and Los Angeles, perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of an informal national coach network — to rival Greyhound (though they own Bolt)  and to capture a larger part of the travel market.

Oh, and I’ll probably take the bus to General Assembly next year. (Not my first time, and not the furthest: D.C. to Quebec City.) Any takers?

Categorized as Travel

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. I love the Chinatown bus! I’ve never gone from Boston to New York in any other way. I remember someone in with a backpack approaching the queue and asking the people there how much it was and his mouth dropping when we told him it was only $10. There’s no way I could get from Manchester to London for anything like that.

  2. Beware some of these low fare Asian buses. I have passed broken down Chinatown buses on the NJ turnpike too many times. All the passengers were standing in the rain. Some bus services often save money by not maintaining their buses with the result that the bus might break down and you might be stranded.

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