Car-less travelers who want a cheap ride out of the city know they can count on a plethora of Chinatown buses, which pick up riders curbside and deposit them in various cities along the coast. They may be disappointed to learn this might not be the case for much longer.
In light of recent deadly crashes, federal officials have shut down twenty-six of these Chinatown bus companies, the New York Times reports. The pool of inspectors for these bus companies is small, and the hope is this action will discourage other similar, low-budget companies from trying to get away with the same legal evasions, the article explains. These evasions are facilitated by the companies’ lack of an official “home base,” making investigations into safety regulations difficult. Recent investigations, however, reveal safety violations among these companies run rampant.
The Chinatown buses’ nearly 1,800-a-day passengers include everyone from students on a budget to casino-goers hoping to make a deal. One of the companies, Apex Bus, touts its low prices on its barebones company website. Roundtrip from Manhattan to Richmond, Virginia is a steal at $30.
Many officials hail this crackdown as a lifesaving measure, but how are riders responding, particularly those left to fend for themselves on the curb?
At the intersection of Canal and Allen Street, where these bus companies have their offices and stops, many people were standing around today with their suitcases, looking perplexed. Some bus stop buildings are open for business while others, like Apex, have their grates partially pulled down. A handwritten sign out front of Apex lists several trains as “not running.”
One frustrated traveler was trying to visit family in Philadelphia. He said the Apex website was up and running and indicated the last bus would be leaving at five. When he showed up at the “bus stop,” there were just a lot of people waiting without explanation.
“They’re only letting people in that building based on nationality,” he said, indicating the Apex building. When pressed further, he explained only Chinese people were being allowed into the building. “I have ridden this bus several times, there and back, now people are saying the government shut it down. They’re saying it’s not safe. I guess I’m going home today,” he said. “Suddenly this all looks bogus,” another added.
Hopeful riders explained Apex runs as a cash transaction, and they would likely not trust the website with their money. They expected to pay in person at the stop, agreeing Apex is preferable to a service like Greyhound, which charges significantly more and is not accommodating in where it drops riders off. Apex is known for driving into more “obscure neighborhoods.”
There is a transportation bill pending in Congress, according to the New York Times article, with one goal being to implement a letter grade system similar to that currently being used with restaurants in the city. The Philadelphia-bound rider said the buses were only occasionally dirty in the past, but often had wifi access. He said they were never as bad as a New York City subway train.
“A grade would not necessarily make a difference to me, I’ve never had trouble in the past,” he said. “It’s important that the driver be safe though, that’s my life on the line.”
Several people waiting for other bus lines, in front of open buildings, declined to comment on the situation.
As of today the Apex Bus website is still accepting online ticket purchases, despite being shut down, though it redirects users to an external site.
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