I saw this article in the Economist a few weeks ago about the impact of the
Chinatownbus business developed in the 1990s to offer recent immigrants an inexpensive van ride around town and, later on, between cities. By the end of the decade, the Fung Wah bus company had begun shuttling college students and other cash-strapped Americans between New York's Chinatown and 's for $10 each way. Boston
Competition soon became so intense that it prompted the 2004 “bus wars” in
New York's Chinatown, in which buses were rammed and torched and a decapitated torso was left near a passenger loading zone. Spotty safety records—in 2005 one Chinatownbus caught fire on the road—and reports of drivers working excessive hours also raised concerns about safety. But with prices so low, the buses still left packed. Greyhound, America's biggest passenger bus line, dropped its prices, offering a name-brand alternative to the Chinatowncoaches. Dozens of new competitors also emerged. Hasidic Jews from Brooklynfounded the Washington Deluxe and Vamoose Bus. Most recently, a Marriott executive founded DC2NY, a service between Washington and New York that guarantees customers seats if booked online and charges only slightly more than the Chinatown buses (a $40 round-trip versus $35). It also offers free bottles of water and Wi-Fi internet access. The “luxury” bus carrier has more than doubled its operation since its inaugural trip this summer. Watch as its older rivals start copying its perks.
I’m typing this right now from the DC2NY bus on my way from NYC to DC. Wireless has been a little touch and go, but it’s pretty nice to be able to access the internet at all while traveling.
The Economist story covers the main points. Chinese immigrants needed an affordable way to make short-hop trips on the East Coast and nothing in the existing market was suitable. So immigrant entrepreneurs created a new product that soon caught on outside the Chinese community by dramatically undercutting the competition. A Greyhound bus is no more comfortable than a
There’s also a minibus company that primarily serves Latino immigrants commuting from the
This pattern is nothing new—it constitutes the history of