Getting Started on the Chinatown Bus

Getting Started on the Chinatown Bus
As with airline tickets, plane tickets, train tickets, and the like, you can purchase Chinatown bus tickets both online and in person. When you purchase your tickets online, be sure you have a confirmation number or other identification to ensure that your order went through. You will need to have this information when you pick up your tickets at the bus counter.

For all the convenience technology offers us these days, however, buying your Chinatown bus tickets in person is actually the better option. Chinatown buses are loaded on a first-come, first-serve basis. That means that even if you’ve bought a ticket in advance, you are not guaranteed a seat at a particular time. Therefore, when you plan to travel, you should arrive at the depot at least an hour ahead. Because you are not buying tickets in advance, you will want to give yourself this extra time.

Also allow yourself time to talk with your ticket agent about the destination departure location. Returning on the Chinatown bus is the same as departing. The seating is unassigned, and it is done on a first-come, first-serve basis. The location where you are picked up will not necessarily be the location where you are dropped off. Because this is one of the caveats of the Chinatown bus line, you must be sure to verify your pick-up location with the ticket agent before you leave.

Observing from the lobby of the station, you’ll find that as a bus pulls up, ticket holders will board at random. Chinatown bus seating is not like airline seating, where an attendant calls for passengers several times. If you are not on the Chinatown bus when the driver is ready to go or if you are not on before it fills, you will have to wait for the next one.

As with any other bus line, the Chinatown bus carries travelers along the same roads people in the city use to get to work. It operates on a schedule, but getting stuck in traffic is possible. The good thing is that you’re not the one driving, so you needn’t worry about road rage or having someone cut you off.

If you are traveling on a schedule, however, the Chinatown bus should be used with caution. Suppose you decide to ride the Chinatown bus to New York. You’ve bought Broadway tickets to the latest musical, and the show starts at 3pm. From Philadelphia to New York, a normal bus ride might be around 2 hours without traffic. With traffic, you would have to plan for unexpected delays of at least an hour.

Instead, you might consider using the Chinatown bus exclusively for day trips. Under these circumstances, your arrival and departure times don’t become as important. And as long as you schedule your arrival time several hours before, you can conveniently include meetings or ticketed engagements as part of your day.

In places like Philadelphia and DC, many business travelers use the Chinatown bus as their primary transport during the week. And on the weekends, you’ll often find day-trippers and recreational travelers who like to take the bus--to New York especially--to find the latest shopping bargains. Be clear about your traveling needs before your next trip. If you don’t have to take an airplane, save your time and your money. Think about taking the Chinatown bus.

For more information on the Chinatown bus, visit Travel Resources on the MidAtlantic USA website, part of

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