The Chinatown Bus

Before the Bolt Bus and their $1 rides, there was the Chinatown bus.  It seemed to me that there was always the Chinatown bus.  Dirt cheap and gets you there… sometimes.

The Feds just shut down 26 bus companies for safety; most of them run by the Chinese.  This stemmed from several fatal bus crashes in the past year involving cheap busses to casinos and also several cities in the US Northeast. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/nyregion/federal-officials-shut-down-26-bus-operators.html

Cheaper rides and from Chinatown to Chinatown!  No more immigrants ending up in some Greyhound depot lost and confused as to how to get to Chinatown.  Running amongst New York, Boston, DC, Philly, and other major Northeast cities, it provided a wonderful service for the Chinese immigrants who continue to live in their cultural bubble.

Then poor college kids started taking them to between school and home.  Word of mouth spread and more and more non-Asians started taking the bus and business grew.  The quality of the rides was quite good.  No worse than Greyhound and a lot cheaper!  You’re never quite sure where the bus will pick you up or when it’d show, but that is all part of the fun of riding the Chinatown bus.

As with any supply that grows to meet increased demand, quality usually suffers.  Competition from new companies and popup chartered bus that run during school breaks didn’t help.  How can you make a profit selling tickets for a quarter of the price as Greyhound?!  I can understand that immigrant workers are willing to work longer for less pay, but the overall upkeep of the busses and equipment has got to suffer.

The Time article reports that when a company is shut down due to violations, it pops back up with a new name but the same owner.  I could see why these companies are so unscrupulous in their businesses.  With such small margins, they need to skirt the law.

I can’t condone breaking the law for profit, especially when safety is involved.  But I think riders, as with consumers of any product, must understand that they get what they pay for.  Even if the logo on the bus says, “Ride at your own risk,” there will always be poor immigrants and who will ride them; which is why this crackdown is so important.

If Upton Sinclair didn’t bring to public awareness of the immigrant condition in “The Jungle”, then we wouldn’t have the food safety regulations signed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.

Public awareness and government regulations with enforcement are important.  Granted that the Chinatown buses are not impacting everyone and it’s more of a “consumers beware” cautionary tale, I think understanding immigrant conditions are important in reducing their need to be cheap; sacrificing safety to save a buck.

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