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Chinatown buses: Driving them out of business

FRUGAL travellers in America’s north-east have heard the stories. There was the bus that rolled over from going too fast. There was the one that, somehow, lost its rear wheels. A few others burst into flames. Yet potential passengers still gather near the Chinese gate in Washington, DC to catch a cheap ride to New York. A one-way ticket costs around $20, against a whopping $150 on the train. It is far from luxurious, but you can watch films on your iPad or flirt with the other young travellers.For some 15 years “Chinatown bus” lines have shuttled thrifty folk between east-coast cities for a fraction of the price of name-brand carriers. Chinese immigrants were first to hop aboard, followed by college students and other cash-strapped Americans.There have been—how can one put this?—hiccups. Fierce competition for passengers in New York led to the “bus wars” of 2004, in which coaches were torched, drivers were assaulted and a few people were murdered. (A decapitated torso also made an appearance.) But things soon settled down, and more established companies such as Greyhound and Peter Pan set up discount lines of their own.Kerbside pick-up reduced overhead costs, but some suspected that the upstart companies were also cutting corners on safety. Each high-profile accident brought calls for investigations. At the behest of Charles Schumer, a senator from New York, the National…

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