A few readers nicely complement Reihan's conclusion on Fung Wah's influence on the marketplace. One writes:
I just wanted to put some of the complaints about the Chinatown buses in perspective.
While Fung Wah's safety record really does cry out for better regulation, the rest of the complaints about curbside service can easily be outmatched by Greyhound's pitiful service. The last time I rode Greyhound, it first took me forever to find the gate in the unmarked labyrinth of the Port Authority, and once there I found they'd oversold my bus by a long shot. About 30 of us had to wait two hours in the station, because apparently one bus was caught in traffic (an hour late) and the driver of another just hadn't come in that day (I guess that's a privilege Greyhound's drivers' unions have earned them) . The day only got worse after I was on the bus when the replacement driver started to get lost, and angrily shouted at people offering directions. She also shouted at me and threatened to kick me off the bus when I called my out-of-town guest and explained (in hushed tones) why I would be three hours late to our rendezvous. That day was the most frustrating, humiliating, enraging experience I've ever had traveling (which is saying a lot).
In Chinatown, by contrast, if you miss one bus there are two competitors fighting for your business down the block, leaving five minutes later, and another arriving from that same operator in 15 minutes anyway. My fellow passengers on Chinatown buses have been no more or less weird or numerous than on Greyhound, but honestly I'd be happy to carry some lady AND her chicken crate on my lap if I could have avoided my nightmare day on Greyhound.
As for the people complaining about the curb space they block: are you kidding? Intercity bus transit is the most space and fuel-efficient use of the roads possible! A bus with 60 passengers needs as much space as maybe three or four cars while parked, and maybe 1.5 while going highway speeds. If they're parking illegally, I'm sure they are ticketed just like anyone else, and I'm sure they set aside cash to pay the fines. That driver complaining about the bus blocking a lane ought to be thanking those people for not clogging the road with another 60 private space-hogs like his own car.
The bottom line is that Greyhound is a bloated, lazy, bureaucratic fat cat only now being whipped into shape by some much-deserved, if imperfect, competition.
The horror stories you've heard are no exaggeration. Imagine my surprise the first time I rode Fung Wah when we arrived in NYC to find the bus ahead of us rammed halfway into a jewelry store. I wish I still had the camera phone picture to prove it. So yes, Fung Wah & Co. do illustrate some dangers of unregulated free market capitalism, i.e. cutting corners on consumer safety.
However, they do illustrate at least one benefit of the free market. Their ridiculously low prices forced Greyhound, who was incredibly overpriced for the same routes, to be more competitive. After they had no luck with litigation against the Chinatown buses, Greyhound opened up BoltBus, a bus service with much better quality standards and comparable prices to Chinatown, with free wifi to boot. I've been on BoltBus and it's great.
So while the Chinatown standard itself isn't exactly a shining beacon of the wonders of capitalism, there is no denying the indirect positive impact that those buses had on the marketplace.
The complaints that you've been posting about the Fung Wah bus service are worthy of a spot on www.whitewhine.com. What did these people expect from a dirt-cheap service?