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Penny-Pinching Peril

Nine years ago, the first Chinatown bus service revolutionized cheapo travel. But turf wars and safety problems—culminating in last week’s fatal crash—soon undermined the dream. A historical itinerary:

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1998
Fung Wah launches the first “Chinatown bus”: $25 curbside service to Boston.

May 2002
Price war! Upstart competitors cause fares to get slashed from $40 to as low as $10. Soon enough, things turn violent.

May 11, 2003
Bus-company employee De Jian Chen dies in a drive-by shooting. Earlier, Chen had hit a man from a rival company with his bus.

Summer–Fall 2003
Arson is suspected when two buses catch fire. A bus employee is stabbed nine times and killed in Chinatown after an on-bus argument about money. 

November 2003
Ray Kelly creates an Asian crime task force to investigate the bloodshed, citing strong-arm methods, vandalism of buses, and possible gang and mob ties.

January 17, 2004
Bus wars suspected to be behind a Chinatown shooting spree by two men who opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle and .45-caliber handgun. The boyfriend of a bus-company employee is killed.

June 2004
Greyhound launches a Chinatown bus route, promoting it as a safer alternative.

August 2005
A Fung Wah bus catches fire en route to New York; 45 passengers are evacuated just before flames engulf the bus. 

August–September 5, 2006
A Pittsburgh–New York bus crashes; five passengers are hospitalized. Thirty-four are injured when a Fung Wah bus flips over in Massachusetts, prompting the company to agree to random safety checks and to use drivers who read and speak English.

September 2006
Senator Chuck Schumer lobbies to shut down curbside buses; while Greyhound gets a safety-management rating of zero (out of 100, with lower numbers being better), the Chinatown bus companies range from 71 to 99.

May 20, 2007
A Chinatown–bound bus crashes in Pennsylvania; two are killed, 32 injured. Today, 24 companies operate an estimated 200 buses in the Northeast.

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