There is no Chinatown in Pittsburgh, but now there's the "Chinatown" bus.
On July 6, New York-based All State Travel Bus Company, began shuttling passengers from Downtown Pittsburgh to State College, as well as New York City's Chinatown ... its only three stops so far.
All State is one of several similar "Chinatown bus" lines, which have long been a popular mode of transportation for budget travelers on the Eastern seaboard. The services use Chinatowns from Boston to Florida as depots. The first such routes were started by Chinese immigrants looking for a means to ferry relatives and fellow workers ... not unlike Greyhound, which owes its Hibbing, Minn. origins to transporting Scandinavian miners across the heartland. In cities where the Chinatown buses have been running for some time, they've given Greyhound a run for its money.
On a recent trip, Eugenio Lopez Matos boarded the company's brand-new bus at the intersection of Market Street and Fort Pitt Boulevard ... one of only two passengers on board the 2 p.m. outbound. Lopez Matos is a San Juan, Puerto Rico, native who comes to Pittsburgh every other month via Amtrak train or Greyhound. But he says the Chinatown bus has fewer stops and provides much cheaper service: $35 for one-way bus service to New York, as compared to a one-way Greyhound ticket at $52. "I'm very happy about that," says Lopez Matos. "It's a cleaner and newer bus."
Although All State has been running buses to other cities, a recent Downtown-to-New-York-City round-trip showed a few glitches: A bus driver forgot to turn on the air conditioning for the first half of the trip, and another had to be asked to turn down the Chinese folk music booming over the public announcement system. (Tip: Instructions are more readily understood if delivered in Mandarin Chinese.)
In order to build customer confidence in this fledgling expansion, the company's owners say they will run so long as there is even a single passenger. "Word of mouth is the most important," says Lillian Ho, one of All State's owners. "Because one customer will bring five others, five will tell 10 others." Ho says the company decided to expand to Pittsburgh based on market research ... and that it may extend service to Cleveland within the next month.
Anna Folmnsbee, spokeswoman for Greyhound, says it's too soon for her to tell if there will be a fare war here. But for now, Folmnsbee says, "Really, we welcome competition in any location because it can bring more passengers to the bus industry."
Contacts: www.ebusticket.com, 412-281-7358.