On the need for Chinatown buses, brieflyBy
The Chinatown buses that have proliferated over the past few decades maintain an interesting place in the scheme of regional transit. Operating out off the sidewalks of northeast Chinatowns, these buses are not known for their safety, but they provide cheap rides between New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and points further afield. Some may scoff at the way the chaotic boarding process crowds the sidewalk and frown at the way idling buses pollute the neighborhoods. But these vehicles serve a purpose if we want, as Cap’n Transit has shown, trips at every price and level of luxury.
Yet, even as we acknowledge the Chinatown buses, these vehicles pose serious problems. With low cost comes low safety, and many Chinatown buses have pulled off the roads by federal safety regulators. Today, Fung Wah, one of the more popular low-cost providers for the Boston-to-New York route, was ordered off the road by the feds due to serious concerns over vehicle integrity. With that move, very few big-name Chinatown bus companies remain untouched.
The coverage of the Fung Wah safety story has been peculiar from certain corners. J.K. Trotter, writing for The Atlantic Cities wrote a post that seemed to be mocking the Chinatown buses and deriding any remaining riders. Now, safety is a serious concern, but so too is maintaining the array of intercity travel options if we are to encourage transit usage. Somehow, we have to figure out how to provide cheap, reliable and safe intercity travel without looking down upon those who opt for the least expensive solution.