Chinatown's Bus Wars

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The white bus parked by the Citibank on Canal Street has been sitting there since Memorial Day weekend, when Dejian Chen tried to use it to run over a driver from a rival bus company.

In the early morning of May 26, Chen sat behind the wheel of his bus, idling at Chinatown's unofficial bus terminal on East Broadway and Forsyth Street. He was waiting for Chen Lundong, an employee of Far Well Tours, to come out of a local deli with his morning coffee. Just as Lundong walked behind Chen's bus, Chen threw the gear in reverse and tried to squeeze Lundong between his bus and another. Lundong survived and was rushed to Bellevue Hospital. And Chen was arrested adding yet another skirmish to the police department's records on the feuding bus companies.

For the last several years, a number of small bus companies have shuttled passengers between the Chinatowns of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, .C The fares are unbeatable: While commercial bus companies based at the Port Authority charge about $40 for a round trip ticket to Philadelphia, a ride with these more informal establishments runs about $10.

The companies started up to cater to Chinatown residents, mostly members of the Fukinese community. Many live or work in another city, relying on the buses to visit family and shop.

After a few years, word of the bus services spread, attracting bargain-hunters from across the city. And with the growth in business came cutthroat competition. About three years ago, the sole bus line running from New York to Philadelphia split in two. “They've been fighting ever since,” says police officer David Yap of Chinatown's 5th Precinct, noting that employees of both companies have been arrested for assaulting one another.

The attempted murder in May has drawn the attention of the New York and Philadelphia police departments, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who all say they are investigating the incident, though they would not comment on the specific nature of the inquiries.

Tracking the companies down is not easy. “The bus companies change their name every week,” says Justin Yu, a reporter with World Journal, a national Chinese newspaper that covered the story. Many Chinatown residents and merchants know of the feud but can't name the companies. “They are in a big fight,” says an employee of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, a network of 60 Chinese organizations, sharing all the information he had.

For now, fighting between companies seems to have cooled and business is bustling. And Eastern Travels & Tour, its name stenciled on the side of Chen's white bus, now travels to Boston instead of Philadelphia.

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