“YO!,” Chinatown Buses Go Mainstream

Bus company brings back revamped Chinatown Buses

Outside of Philadelphia’s main Greyhound station, people from vast ethnic backgrounds line up to board a bus bound for the Big Apple.

But, unlike the blue and silver Greyhound buses that roll out for places like Atlantic City, Cleveland, Baltimore and even New York, the bus these riders board is a bright red bus with Chinese inscriptions and “YO! Bus” written in large letters on the side.

“What YO! Bus brings is more options for travelers to choose from,” said Greyhound spokesman Timothy Stokes.

Nearly a year after the federal government shuttered Chinatown bus lines traveling up and down the I-95 Corridor,  the country's largest bus line -- Greyhound -- has partnered with Peter Pan Bus Lines to bring back the Chinatown-to-Chinatown service. YO! Bus line has picked up where the now defunct bus lines left off, shuttling passengers between Philly’s and New York’s Chinatowns for less than Amtrak.

The monster bus companies intentionally kept YO! Bus true to its Asian roots while giving it a bit of Philly flair. The name alone has dual meaning as it’s derived from the Chinese word meaning “to protect” as well as serving as a nod to Philadelphians’ favorite “Yo” greeting, according to the company’s website.

The color used for all YO! Buses is also geared towards the Asian community since the color red symbolizes good fortune.

But these buses are about more than just appealing to the Asian travelers who ride them while filling the void left by the shutdown of companies like Philly’s own New Century Travel.

“YO! provides a fun and safe travel experience for our customers, using environmentally friendly buses and the most highly-trained professional drivers in the industry,” said Peter Pan Bus Lines chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly in a press release.

YO! has an indoor ticket area located to the side of the Greyhound station at 10th and Filbert Streets and a covered waiting area, with its own red bench. On any given day you will find a mix of people boarding the buses and sometimes find kids playing in an area of the bus station that used to be used only for deliveries and the occasional arrival.

On many days, you will also find Ronald Cheng, simply known as YO! Bus Ron, helping passengers get on board and the bus get on its way -- all with a smile.

The goal for YO! Bus Ron and other employees is to bring a friendly and comfortable atmosphere to Chinatown buses. Some workers are bilingual to assist riders who want to communicate in their native language.

Philadelphia’s Rong Feng Li says she feels more comfortable and, more importantly to her, safer on the YO! Bus than she ever did on the old lines.

“This is better,” she said as she boarded a midday bus bound for New York to see her family.

Li, who likes to settle into a window seat, said that besides the comfortable and clean interior, the buses actually run on time.

Rengung Hu echoed an appreciation for the buses running on time as he spoke through a translator. Hu, a long-time Chinatown bus rider who was waiting to board with his family, said he appreciates the convenience of having a bus service again in Chinatown that is reliable.

Other travelers said they are impressed with the buses, which feature leather seats, WiFi and  power outlets. There is also more legroom. The operators removed a row of seats, reducing the total seats on each coach to 50 instead of 54 or 55, according to Stokes.

“So far so good,” said Afe Alemu as he headed to work in New York. He makes the trip weekly on YO! Bus.

Alemu, and others, do have one main complaint. They say  there are not enough departures offered.

Currently the bus leaves for the two-hour or so trip to New York eight times a day, seven days a week, between 7:15 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. and arrives in Philly eight times a day between 9 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. 

Tickets are sold, without a fee, through GoToBus.com and at the YO! Bus desk at the station.

Stokes said he company does not provide ridership numbers for competitive reasons but that Greyhound has seen many sold-out buses.

“We are very pleased with what we’ve seen so far,” Stokes told NBC10.com.

YO! Bus has expanded in recent weeks by adding six daily trips between Boston and New York.

“Since we launched YO! last December, we’ve seen a tremendous response from the community and customers, so we’re excited to bring this exceptional service to Boston,” said Greyhound Lines, Inc. president and CEO Dave Leach at the time.

Riders cannot buy a ticket from Philly to Boston directly. You have to take the YO! Bus to New York and then pay for a ticket to continue on to Boston.

The company is exploring more routes, more departures and curb-side pickup and dropoff, Stokes said.

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