From Boston to New York to California, Chinatown bus lines battle stereotypes and create a lifeline between Chinese-American communities 往返与纽约与波士顿之间，唐人街巴士连接着一个个华人社区，他们与刻板印象做斗争，在争议中艰难地运营
From Boston to New York to LA and the Southwest, Chinatown bus lines are a pioneer in budget travel and a billion-dollar industry in the US. As these immigrant business face corporate lobbyists intent on shutting them down, they provide a lifeline of essential services between Chinese communities
SATURDAY, 5:27 P.M. NORTH QUINCY T STOP, BOSTON, MA
I just want to make sure you come to take three minutes.”
does a head count, clicking her ballpoint pen intermittently. The driver returns from his cigarette break. He clips in his seatbelt, closes the door, and the engine purrs to life.
The bus lurches from the parking lot, out journey ahead.
It was along this route, between Boston bus travel was born two decades ago. Now tens of millions across the United States every garment workers to visit their children attending colleges in Boston. Nicknamed bus lines pick up at hundreds of stops on the transporting workers to jobs, and connecting individuals with services in urban centers.
stops in the Deep South and diners communities in America are linked by veins of gasoline and steel.
SATURDAY, 9:45 P.M. MANHATTAN CHINATOWN, NYC
arrival, we are crossing the bridge into glittering skyline. The bus drops off are at least seven bus companies that whisk passengers across the country
coach pulls up at a storefront, which unassisted into a compartment on the side of the bus and are waved onboard.
smoking onl musician and father of
he bused tables, delivered for a noodle factory, and shuttled garment workers in a van between Brooklyn and Manhattan. In 1997, Liang borrowed 60,000 USD from family members to start his own company.
“Some people start restaurants,” just four vans.
Liang told him that they wished to visit their children at college, Liang bought a permit to carry passengers on federal highways. In 1988, Liang USD roundtrip, half the price of other bus companies. Liang emphasized, “I really wanted to provide a service to people who don’t speak English.”
In one month, Liang increased his service from one trip per day to three. Over several years, vans became hour days driving buses and running
FROM THE CENTER OF MANHATTAN TO TRUCK STOPS IN THE DEEP SOUTH AND DINERS OF THE SOUTHWEST DESERT, CHINESE COMMUNITIES IN AMERICA ARE LINKED BY VEINS OF GASOLINE AND STEEL
operations while his wife ran the ticket
It was precarious business. Liang paid bus drivers 100 USD each round trip, which could take eight to 10 hours of driving, averaging to about 11 USD per hour. It cost 700 USD more to cover the tolls, fuel, maintenance, and insurance per USD; if it was empty, he lost money. Nevertheless, there was potential to make thousands in one day—and for many years, Liang did.
Other bus companies cropped almost overnight, expanding routes
usually consisted of a ticketing agent standing on a curb with a handheld software developer Xiangping com, an online sales platform for were listed in English, and the prices bloggers descended upon the buses like a divine revelation.
FRIDAY, 3:39 P.M. SOUTH STATION, BOSTON, MA
easy smile, she tells me that she left began working in a sporting goods that closed, her husband found an
Back then, tickets were 15 USD one way. “The lines were always so long, there was no time for me to sit!” she exclaims.
competition reached fever pitch on In what became known as the “fare wars,” tickets dropped as low as 10 USD each way, with companies sometimes operating at a loss to continue their services. Between 1997 7 million annual riders across the Northeast United States, taking 60 in the region.
It wasn’t long before the stalwarts of the American transportation industry began to take notice. International bus companies did what they could to cut down on competition, often miring and protracted legal battles; small immigrant businesses did not have the
I had always wondered why Boston’s South Station bus terminal
NATIONAL BUS COMPANIES OFTEN MIRED CHINATOWN BUSES IN GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY AND PROTRACTED LEGAL BATTLES; SMALL IMMIGRANT BUSINESSES DID NOT HAVE THE POCKETBOOKS TO FIGHT
“YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK THAT THE WHITE PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO DO. YOU NEED TO WORK HARDER THAN WHITE PEOPLE—IF YOU’RE LAZIER THAN THEM, WHO WILL HIRE YOU, RIGHT?”
rather than at a curbside like in other cities.
and ordered all buses to cease curbside operations, leaving only one terminal terminals in South Station.
their own curbside intercity bus lines teamed up again to launch Boltbus. Decked out in bright colors, with outlets, corporate bus lines went for the jugular of the college student and young professional market.
Although it’s still one of the larger is now past its boom era. Tickets never ticket stand, and the agents sit playing
off—in between you just wait.”
SUNDAY, 8:42 A.M. TOP CARE PHARMACY, FLUSHING, NY
After the Department of Transportation cracked down on curbside pickups, operators rented out their own storefronts and lease them to each other. In smaller cities, the bus picks up wherever contracts can be negotiated. The schedule aggregator Supermarket in Rockville, Maryland.
Kings and Shell gas stations are the most common locations.
Many of the newer companies differentiate their service by adding stops in small cities or outlying
An elderly Boston woman with a bright blue rolling backpack and a not young anymore,” she laughs
“Retirement can get boring,” she is easy to feel isolated or cut off from community life, especially in suburban areas. It’s the reason why my own decade ago, rather than face the lonely hours when my parents were working and their children at school.
As bus networks expand to more across the coast, I marvel that a septuagenarian with little English ability has easily traveled hundreds of miles alone simply to have dinner with friends.
SUNDAY, 1:28 P.M. PANDANYBUS, MANHATTAN CHINATOWN, NY
networks of families and friends, communities with those living in smaller towns.
salons, or for undocumented people a bus ticket can be literally a ticket out of poverty. Many passengers work permits or immigration status. A asylum visa, proof of economic status translation, visa extension, work quick divorce.”
in Manhattan, passengers queue for the 3 o’clock departure to Richmond, gesturing to two gigantic suitcases They’re cheaper to mail from New “Nike shoes here can be as low as 30 1,000 RMB for these shoes!”
Mrs. Lin tells me that she has worked know a word of English. I started to 10 at night. I got home 11, had no energy to do anything except watch
A STREET AD, ENTIRELY IN CHINESE, LISTS SERVICES RENDERED: “STUDENT VISA, 10YEAR VISA, ASYLUM VISA…GREEN CARD, RE-ENTRY PERMIT, QUICK DIVORCE”
some TV, call people back home, and go to sleep.”
“If you want to make something of yourself in this country, you can’t be work that the white people don’t want white people—if you’re lazier than them, who will hire you, right?” I nod tentatively. “In law, we are all equal, but at work, on the street, this is still the white people’s country.”
I open my mouth to say something, but Mrs. Lin adds with an edge of here to change our mingyun”— our destiny.
Liang believes in destiny. After 17 years of building his business into an operation with millions in annual
US Department of Transportation citing cracked frames, fraudulent vehicle maintenance records, and failure to test drivers for drugs.
Safety is paramount, of course. But and reapplied for its operational license, the application was denied. After spending hundreds of thousands
However, by that point its terminal in Boston South Station had been snatched up by other lines. Due to the was as good as a death sentence—with nowhere to pick up passengers, what was the point of having trained drivers sinking big bucks into lawyers, Liang surrendered his business.
lines were driven by media reports on safety from the public imagination. a blog in which he lists news reports of accidents on bus lines across the industry.
into a truck due to a sleeping driver, and a Boltbus driver was caught four passengers died when a Megabus a Boltbus crashed and slid down an embankment, hospitalizing 14. These companies were not the main targets of politicians rallying around safety, nor asked to cease operations.
that it “didn’t surprise anybody” and bus line stories with pithy titles, such that a man was literally beheaded and cannibalized onboard.
As scholars Nicholas J. Klein and Andrew Zitcer write, “Buses serve as moving articulations, containers for passengers’ perceptions of community, they serve real, unmet needs.
looking man, perhaps in his late 30s or early 40s, dashed in and out the depot, dropping off grocery bags. There were now ten. “They’re hot pot ingredients,” the man says, smiling. “I’m a big eater.” In Richmond, the ingredients “don’t have the jl people like so much.”
Two men wheel a cardboard box in hinged lid containers,” the box says— they are the styrofoam boxes used for takeout. The box is placed next Seafood, live Dungeness crab.”
The next morning, those boxes could riders whose fresh memories of 70th birthday parties and grandchildren ring in their ears. And as they pull away en route to the next community, aboard holding empty suitcases and comfortable position to sleep.
Though Chinatown buses originally transported Chinese garment workers to work, they are now a popular mode of low-cost transportation well beyond the Chinese community
Passengers load their luggage before the 7-hour ride to Virginia aboard Tiger Bus
California-based, Vietnamese-owned Hoang Express provides lunch: a banh mi sandwich and a bottle of water
In Manhattan Chinatown, the epicenter of Chinatown bus lines in the northeast, bus companies rent out storefronts in order to use the curbside for pick-up
In Southern California, the Northeast bus model has been embraced in a region where public transportation is even sparser and Amtrak prices higher.
Chinatown buses are popular among students like Andrew Huang, who rides home to New Jersey for the winter holidays