The Chinatown Shuttle: Better Than New York’s Subway

flushing chinatown shuttle bus new york

Your white minibus awaits, madam

I’ve always been a huge fan of the New York City subways, even in the ’80s when the cars were covered in graffiti. But since coming home for a visit last week, I’ve discovered an even better way to get around the city: the Chinatown shuttle!

The shuttles are a local version of the intercity Chinatown buses that you can find in most major U.S. cities. (More about this later this week, when I’ll be taking the Chinatown bus from New York to Boston.) In New York, minibuses run between the city’s three main Chinese neighborhoods: Flushing in Queens, Chinatown in Manhattan, and Sunset Park in Brooklyn. (On another note, there are also immigrant-run van routes — guaguas? — that run along Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn, though I’ve not taken these myself.)

Each ride costs $2.50, except for the Brooklyn-Queens route, a 30-minute trip on the expressways that costs $4. Not bad, considering the subway’s now $2.25 a ride anyway and traveling from Flushing to Sunset Park  – 7 train into Manhattan, then the N at Times Square all the way to 62nd St in Brooklyn — is an exhausting trip that can easily take two hours. Plus, unlike the subway, you’re guaranteed a seat! For more about the Chinatown shuttle, check out this post (with map) at Sunset Park Chronicled.

The vans wait for passengers on 41st street in Flushing, next to a hole-in-the-wall hawking what might be the neighborhood’s best dumplings. When enough people get on, the shuttle departs. On my bus, it was about a dozen of us, including five women who all carried fake Louis Vuitton bags.

chinatown shuttle new york flushing deng

Mr. Deng, Sunset Park old-timer

Last week, when I took the shuttle into Brooklyn to meet up with some friends, I sat next to Mr. Deng, who’s lived in New York for 30 years. Mr. Deng’s from Guangdong originally, but his family’s been moving between the U.S. and China since the early 1900s, when his grandfather first arrived in the U.S. Now his relatives are spread out across the U.S. and England, and he hasn’t been back to China since the late ’80s.

Mr. Deng, 55, told me he was looking forward to retiring after his daughter graduates college. He couldn’t remember the name of her college, he said, but it’s the one right by City Hall in Manhattan.

Like many of the city’s Chinese immigrants, Mr. Deng makes his living working in restaurants, cooking Malaysian food, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese – you name it. But the pay has gotten worse and worse in recent years. “I make less than I used to 10 years ago,” he said. Mr. Deng pointed to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where businesses never quite recovered from their heavy losses after September 11, causing immigrants to look for jobs in other states.

Does he wish to return to China? “No, I’m used to the life here,” he said. “But maybe when I retire.”

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