The Chinatown Express

The competition of the bus lines that run along the East Coast between the Chinatowns in D.C. and New York is fierce and keeps heating up.

Rumors and stories abound of AU students who have taken the Chinatown buses and had more than a few problems.

Freshman Sunny Shin has good and bad experiences using the "Chinatown Express" bus. While her own experience was quite smooth - the ride included a movie and a restroom break at McDonald's - she said that she would never recommend buying a round-trip ticket.

"My brother was coming back from New York on a round-trip ticket," Shin said. "They got there early, and when the bus finally arrived, they told them there was no more room."

"They ended up getting stranded in Times Square until the 11:00 bus. [The bus companies] don't care about customer service. They know they are the cheapest out there."

A $35 round-trip ticket, which appears to be standard for Chinatown buses, is often less than what Greyhound charges. However, some riders argue that the extra fare is worth the reliability of a reputable, national company like Greyhound.

According to The New York Times, a Chinese immigrant named Fung Wah started a bus service from New York City to Boston, and later added service to D.C. and a handful of other cities. Wah maintained starting and stopping points in the cities' Chinatowns.

Competition between rival families that run the bus lines has brought lower fares to the customers, but some say this savings comes at the cost of failing bus records and safety violations, The Times reported.

The competition is so cutthroat that rival families that run the bus lines have used violence and even murder to keep their businesses afloat, according to The Times. The feuding companies use force to push others out of the business.

Many passengers are concerned for their safety because more than six violent incidents have occurred, The Times reported. As of press time, several "Chinatown Express" bus companies did not return phone calls or e-mails for comment.

Sophomore Madoka Kimura had a horrible experience on the New Century Line that runs between the Chinatowns, she said.

"We were going back to D.C., and all of the sudden four cop cars came and stopped the bus, taking it under inspection," Kimura said. "All they could tell us was that the bus was illegal, including the two New Century buses that had already left that night, and they made us get off. Then a Chinese lady took us all walking back to Chinatown to a completely unmarked bus and told us to get on."

Kimura and her companions took Amtrak instead and did not get their bus fare back, she said.

Stories like this appear to be common.

The Web site Chinatown-bus.com is devoted to this cheap form of travel, and users can exchange stories and determine which bus company is better. Complaints of gas shortages, oversold buses and drivers stopping to relieve themselves in the middle of the freeway are common, along with customers happy to find such an inexpensive way to travel.

Freshman Dan Ferris, who takes frequent trips to New York to see his girlfriend, said he is happy with his experience on these bus lines.

"Washington Express leaves from Farragaut North instead of Chinatown and is catered more for college kids," Ferris said. "These services are great. They're cheap, and they only take about four hours, instead of six-and-a-half hours with Greyhound."

Vamoose Bus stops on 40th Street in Tenleytown across from Hollywood Video twice a day, except Saturday. According to the company's Web site, all buses are new and non-stop to Penn Station in New York City.

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