Cheap Shuttle Buses

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What began as low-cost transport for Chinese communities in the Northeast has now spread to the West Coast--and elsewhere-a-nd is being used by everyone

Land of the shoestring shuttles! Stunned by the success of ultracheap (mainly Chinese-American) buses between major cities in the Northeast, several entrepreneurs have started similar services on the West Coast (with other regions poised to do the same). It was Budget Travel (Dec 2002/Jan 2003) that first drew attention to the more prominent budget buses of New England (Fung Wah, Sunshine Travel) and set off such a land rush that, currently, at least half of the passengers riding on the weekends are not Chinese! In many cases, advance bookings can be made at ivymedia.com (there's a 3 to 10 percent surcharge, but passengers who book with Ivy media receive an e-mail confirmation and are guaranteed a seat). For last-minute travel, simply show up at one of the stops and buy your ticket on the bus (a few also allow bookings over the phone). Several shuttles cover the same routes in the Northeast; if one bus is full, another may be able to take you within the next hour. It's time to do an update of all the current services as of early autumn 2003:

Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area

USAsia Tours San Francisco (415/989-1688) and Los Angeles (626/282-1880). Departures: one per day in each direction; leaves L.A. starting at 1:30 p.m.; leaves Bay Area starting at 8:30 a.m. L.A. stop: Monterey Park (141 N. Atlantic Blvd.). Bay Area stops: San Francisco (Bank of America at 944 Stockton St. and Transbay Terminal at 425 Mission St., 1st St. entrance); Oakland (Chinatown, 388 9th St.); San Jose (Hai Thanh Market, 945 McLaughlin Ave.); Cupertino (Marina Market, 2115 Bandley Dr.). Prices: $40 one way, $70 round trip. Travel time: seven to nine hours. USAsia operates from no fewer than five departure points in the Bay Area (two in San Francisco proper). It also runs casino shuttles between San Francisco and Reno at $25 each way (departures twice a day; same-day return; no one under the age of 21 allowed onboard).

California Shuttle Bus Los Angeles, 626/336-0098. Departures: one per day in each direction; leaves both L.A. and Bay Area starting at 1 p.m. L.A. stops: Fullerton (Radisson, 222 W. Houston Ave.); Cypress (Marriott Courtyard, 5865 Katella Ave.); Long Beach (Holiday Inn, 1133 Atlantic Ave.); Cerritos (Sheraton, 12725 Center Court Dr.); Pomona (Shilo Inn, 3200 Temple Ave.); Torrance (Holiday Inn, 19800 S. Vermont Ave.); L.A. (Wilshire Grand, 930 Wilshire Blvd.); Glendale (Hilton, 100 W. Glenoaks Blvd.); Studio City (Sportsman Lodge, 12825 Ventura Blvd.); Santa Monica (Loews Hotel, 1700 Ocean Ave.). Bay Area stops: San Francisco (Hilton, 333 O'Farrell St.); Santa Clara (Hilton, 4949 Great America Pkwy.); Pleasanton (BART station, 5801 Owens Dr.); San Mateo (Radisson, 4000 S. El Camino Real). Prices: $40 each way. Travel time: about seven hours. Founded in April 2003 by a veteran travel professional whose agency once catered to Japanese tourists, California Shuttle stands out for its user-friendly Web site, numerous convenient hotel stops, and senior discount (10 percent off for people "60 and better").

Phuong Transport Los Angeles, 800/665-1175. Departures: one per day in each direction; leaves L.A. starting at 7 a.m.; leaves Bay Area starting at 6:30 a.m. L.A. stops: Pomona (Hoa Binh Pomona Supermarket, 1093 E. Holt Ave.); Garden Grove/Westminster (13861 Brookhurst St.); San Gabriel (San Gabriel Superstore, 608 E. Valley Blvd.). Bay Area stops: San Francisco (Dong Nam A Video, 535 Eddy St.); Oakland (Pho Hoa Hiep I, 1402 E. 12th St.); San Jose (Grand Century Mall, 1111 Story Rd.). Prices: L.A. to San Jose, $35 each way; L.A. to San Francisco/Oakland, $45 each way. Travel time: seven to nine hours. Phuong's service (like that of the other Los Angeles/San Francisco shuttles) is a disappointment pricewise when you consider that Greyhound charges $69 round trip for a seven-day advance-purchase fare. But Phuong has stops in three Vietnamese neighborhoods; if you're considerably closer to these areas than to central L.A., Phuong may be the better choice, given the general seediness of major interstate bus-depot locations. And, most important, you can book Phuong's service (and that of the other shuttles) at the very last minute, on the day of departure.

Los Angeles and Las Vegas

USAsia Tours Los Angeles, 626/282-1880. Departures: one per day in each direction; leaves L.A. starting at 7:30 a.m.; leaves Las Vegas starting at 2 p.m. L.A. stops: San Gabriel (Shun Fat Supermarket, 1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd.); Monterey Park (141 N. Atlantic Blvd.); Rowland Heights (HK Market, 18401 Colima Rd.). Las Vegas stops: Harrah's (3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S.); Rio (3700 W. Flamingo Rd.); Chinatown Plaza (Spring Mtn. Rd.). Prices: $17.50 one way; $25 round trip weekdays, $30 round trip weekends. Travel time: five to six hours. Partnered with Harrah's, USAsia's service is a best buy among the many gambling junket buses available to Angelenos-Greyhound's lowest is a casino fare of $47 round trip. Moreover, USAsia offers the added convenience of three Vegas drop-off points (whereas Greyhound ditches you in no-man's-land near North Las Vegas). No one under the age of 21 is allowed onboard.

Bravo Travel Los Angeles, 626/282-9888. Departures: one per day in each direction; leaves L.A. starting at 7:15 a.m.; leaves Las Vegas starting at 1:15 p.m. L.A. stops: Chinatown (Bank of America, 942 N. Broadway); San Gabriel (Superstore, 1635 S. San Gabriel Blvd.); Monterey Park (Lincoln Plaza Hotel, 123 S. Lincoln Ave.); Rowland Heights (99 Ranch Market, 1015 Nogales St.). Las Vegas stops: Riviera (2901 Las Vegas Blvd. S.); Chinatown (4255 Spring Mountain Rd.); Rio (3700 W. Flamingo Rd.); Harrah's (3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S.); Terrible's (4100 Paradise Rd.); Tropicana (3801 Las Vegas Blvd S.). Prices: $20 each way weekdays, $25 each way weekends. Travel time: five to six hours. Bravo also provides what Greyhound can't for almost the same price: several stops in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. No one under the age of 21 is allowed onboard.

New York and Atlanta

Today Travel (formerly Dragon Coach U.S.A.) New York, 917/577-1219. Departures: one per day in each direction, except Friday; leaves New York at 10 p.m.; leaves Atlanta at 8 p.m. New York stop: Chinatown (109 E. Broadway). Atlanta stop: Doraville, NE Atlanta (5150 Buford Hwy.). Prices: $90 one way, $170 round trip. Travel time: at least 14 hours. This may not seem like a bargain when compared with Greyhound's lowest seven-day advance-purchase fare of $109 round trip, but Today Travel claims to get you to Atlanta or New York in about 14 hours. Greyhound's shortest trip is over 18 hours. Today Travel also advertises additional pickup and drop-off points along I-95 and I-85, including Charlotte, North Carolina (subtract $20 each way).

New York and Boston

Fung Wah Bus Transportation New York (212/925-8889 or 718/438-3300) and Boston (617/338-1163 or 617/338-0007), fungwahbus.com. Departures: 17 to 18 per day in each direction; leaves New York or Boston starting at 7 a.m. (and more or less at hourly intervals thereafter). New York stop: Chinatown (139 Canal St.). Boston stop: Chinatown (68 Beach St.). Prices: $10 each way. Travel time: four to five hours. Fung Wah is one of the oldest and most reliable Chinatown shuttles. Some buses have toilets aboard; others make a short rest stop en route.

Coach New England Boston, 800/310-9900. Departures: three to six per day in each direction, more on weekends; leaves both New York and Boston starting at 7 a.m. New York stop: Midtown (31st St. and 8th Ave., near Penn Station). Boston stop: South Station (Summer St. and Atlantic Ave., platform 25). Prices: $25 one way, $40 round trip. Travel time: four to five hours. Coach New England operates with roomy new buses and movies in English running en route. Students benefit from additional departures from Northeastern and Boston Universities. No $10 deals to New York are offered; but some would rather shell out for the extra comfort and storage space. Coach New England also runs day ski trips on winter weekends from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley; $51 round trip, with a lift ticket and food.

Sunshine Travel Boston, 617/695-1989, sunshineboston.com. Departures: 15 per day in each direction; leaves both New York and Boston starting at 7 a.m. (and more or less at hourly intervals thereafter). New York stops: Chinatown (89 Bowery and 139 Canal St.). Boston stops: Chinatown (81 Harrison Ave., 31 Harrison Ave., and 68 Beach St.). Prices: $10 each way. Travel time: four to five hours. In addition to running these shuttles between Boston and New York, Sunshine is a travel agency that offers international packages and bus tours. It also offers gambling junkets to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut from Boston and New York (departures twice a day; $10 to $12 each way; no one under 21).

Travel Pack Boston, 617/338-8222, travelpackusa.com. Departures: 18 to 20 per day in each direction; leaves both New York and Boston starting at 7 a.m. (and more or less at hourly intervals thereafter). New York stops: Chinatown (97 Bowery and the corner of Forsyth and Division Sts.). Boston stop: Chinatown (42B Harrison Ave.). Prices: $10 each way. Travel time: four to five hours. Like Sunshine, Travel Pack is a full-fledged agency offering tour packages.

New York and Ohio

Dahlia Travel New York, 718/651-1516. Departures: one per day, except Friday; leaves both New York and Cincinnati at 10 p.m., Dayton at 10:30 p.m., and Columbus at 12:30 a.m. New York stop: Chinatown (Holiday Inn Downtown, 138 Lafayette St.). Ohio stops: Cincinnati (Signature Inn, 11385 Chester Rd.); Dayton (Holiday Inn, 2301 Wagoner Ford Rd.); Columbus (Holiday Inn, 175 E. Town St.). Prices: $60 to $70 each way. Travel time: about 12 hours to Columbus. Dahlia's service is on par pricewise with Greyhound (a seven-day advance-purchase fare to Cincinnati is $118 round trip), but the shuttle does not require advance booking and claims to make fewer stops, shaving an hour off the total trip time. Sunday and Monday are the busiest days to leave New York, so if you're planning to rock up and buy a ticket, be sure to get there early.

New York and Philadelphia

Today Travel (formerly Dragon Coach U.S.A.) New York, 212/964-6334. Departures: seven or eight per day in each direction; leaves New York starting at 7:50 a.m.; leaves Philadelphia starting at 6:45 a.m. New York stop: Chinatown (88 E. Broadway). Philadelphia stop: Chinatown (1041 Race St.). Prices: $12 one way; $20 round trip. Travel time: about two hours. On this route, Today Travel beats Greyhound hands down. The latter charges $40 round trip for a seven-day advance-purchase fare. Today Travel also claims to get you to Philly faster.

New Century Travel Philadelphia, 215/627-2666, 2000coach.com. Departures: 6 to 10 per day in each direction; leaves Brooklyn starting at 7 a.m., Chinatown at 8 a.m.; leaves Philadelphia starting at 7 a.m. New York stops: Chinatown (88 E. Broadway); Brooklyn (5994 8th Ave.). Philadelphia stop: Chinatown (52 N. 10th St.). Prices: $10 each way. Travel time: two hours. New Century has been around for about eight years and offers bare-bones service between New York and Philadelphia.

New York and Washington, D.C.

Washington Deluxe New York, 866/287-6932, washny.com. Departures: two per day in each direction, three New York-bound on Sundays; leaves New York starting at 7:10 a.m. Friday, 9:40 a.m. Monday to Thursday, and 10:40 a.m. Sunday; leaves D.C. starting at 8 a.m. Friday, 8:30 a.m. Monday to Thursday and Sunday. New York stops: Brooklyn (corner of Bedford Ave. and Empire Blvd., corner of Bedford and Park Aves., 203 S. Havemayer St.); Manhattan (122 Allen St. and 303 W. 34th St.). D.C. stops: Lafayette Square (1015 15th St. NW); Capitol Hill (441 New Jersey Ave. NW). Prices: $20 one way, $35 round trip. Travel time: four to five hours. Washington Deluxe perks include big, spanking-new buses, plush seats with generous recline, and English-language movies playing en route. It also gets points for its daily mid-morning and late-afternoon bus service each way, and its large number of stops. Anxious travelers who have never used the ethnic shuttles may prefer to get their feet wet with this bus service, as it is primarily an English-speaking one.

Dragon Expressway & Travel (aka Dragon Coach), New York, 212/608-6406, dragonexpressway.com. Departures: three per day in each direction; leaves New York starting at 7:30 a.m.; leaves D.C. starting at 1 a.m. Manhattan stops: Chatham Square (217 Park Row); Midtown (1250 Broadway). D.C. stop: Chinatown (Great Wall Seafood, 627 I St. NW). Prices: $15 one way, $30 round trip. Travel time: five to six hours. The Dragon is fighting back against increased competition by adding more buses at reasonable hours, in addition to its traditional late-night runs. Unlike Washington Deluxe, Dragon will pick up and drop off passengers at the Baltimore Travel Center (just off I-95) by prior arrangement for each leg of the trip.

Today Travel (formerly Dragon Coach U.S.A.), New York, 212/964-6334. Departures: two to five per day in each direction; leaves New York starting at 5 p.m. (8 a.m. Friday to Tuesday); leaves D.C. starting at 2 a.m. New York stop: Chinatown (88 E. Broadway). D.C. stop: Chinatown (610 I St. NW). Prices: $20 one way, $35 round trip. Travel time: four to five hours. Today Travel offers more schedule choices if you travel on the weekends. Like Dragon Expressway, it offers pickups/drop-offs at a Baltimore rest stop on some routes.

New Century Travel Philadelphia, 215/627-2666, 2000coach.com. Departures: two to four per day in each direction; leaves New York starting at 8 a.m. Friday to Tuesday, 5 p.m. Wednesday, and 10:50 a.m. Thursday. Leaves D.C. starting at 2 a.m. New York stop: Chinatown (88 E. Broadway). D.C. stop: Chinatown (513 H St. NW). Prices: $20 one way, $35 round trip. Travel time: four to five hours. Though its bread and butter is still the service between Philly and New York, New Century now offers a few shuttles between New York and D.C.

Eastern Travel New York, 212/868-5724. Departures: two to three per day in each direction; leaves New York starting at 10:30 a.m.; leaves D.C. starting at 1:30 a.m. New York stops: Chinatown (88 E. Broadway); Midtown (Citibank, 34th St. and 7th Ave.). D.C. stop: Chinatown (715 H St. NW). Prices: $20 one way, $35 round trip. Travel time: four to five hours. Check Eastern's schedule carefully for the New York stops-not every bus picks up and drops off at both places. These buses feature toilets, air-conditioning, and entertainment systems (TV/VCR).

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