Chinatown buses offer direct overnight travel from Cincinnati to New York City

Imagine falling asleep in Cincinnati and waking up in Manhattan the next morning. It’s not a dream but another travel opportunity for the Cincinnati region. With the increasing cost of air travel and the declining flight activity at shrinking airport markets like CVG, many people are turning to low cost alternatives provided by inter-city buses.

Unlike the traditional Greyhound model, curbside intercity bus-service has become popular through services such as Megabus and Bolt Bus. These bus companies based their business plan on the Chinatown bus model developed by the Fung Wah buses in the late 1990’s. Megabus currently offers direct connections to Chicago and other Midwestern cities, including Columbus and Pittsburgh, but does not offer continuing service to New York City. Meanwhile, Bolt Bus has no Cincinnati stops.


Megabus picks up passengers along Fourth Street in downtown Cincinnati. Photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

According to a recent article from the Atlantic Cities, Chinatown bus service does run direct from New York City to Cincinnati. UrbanCincy investigated the claim and found that there are actually two Chinatown bus services that have established direct bus service from New York City to Cincinnati as well as Dayton and Columbus.

Services operated by Coach88 and Sky Horse Bus operate six days a week, and arrive in the morning after a 12-hour overnight trip. According to their websites, buses come equipped with comfortable recliner seating and restrooms. Select Coach88 busses offers free wi-fi access.

However, Chinatown buses are not for the faint of heart. In a recently released report published in Urban Geography, authors Nicholas J. Klein and Andrew Zitcer conduct several focus groups to gauge rider experience on Chinatown buses. They found that the “participants rendered Chinatown and the Chinatown bus as an “authentic” urban experience.” And because their routes are designed to connect different Chinatowns, riders will have a unique opportunity to experience Asian culture.


Chinatown inter-city bus route map. Graphic from ‘Everything but the Chickens: Cultural Authenticity Onboard the Chinatown Bus’ report by Urban Geography.

Both dropoff locations are in commercial lots which make long-term parking a challenge. Both services currently drop off thirteen miles from downtown in Springdale. Coach88’s drop off point is on Princeton Pike Rd. near the Tri-County Mall and Sky Horse is along Rt. 4 near I-275. These locations are near city bus service provided by SORTA, however, both the #20 and #78 routes are located a half-mile to almost a mile near the drop off locations.

Still curbside bus service continues to appeal to many people, including local resident Rob Naylor.

“Curbside pickup also allows for quicker and more convenient boarding process, which actually makes travel time comparative to air travel in many cases,” Naylor told UrbanCincy. “I also found the curbside pickup to even feel safer, because you’re being picked up on a street often in the middle of downtown, so you’re around activity.”

These bus companies are filling the growing market of low-cost intercity travel alternatives brought on by rising airfare prices. It also serves as a missed opportunity for several state governments, including Ohio which could have capitalized on with expanded inter-city rail connections.

Additionally, implementation of a plan to consolidate these bus services under a single destination like the Riverfront Transit Center, first proposed last July by UrbanCincy, would greatly enhance the accessible population base for these services thus integrating the service into Cincinnati’s broader regional transportation system.

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

    I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea that there were two Chinatown bus services operating daily routes between Cincinnati and NYC.

    I am curious as to why they chose to pick up and drop off out in Springdale. Is closest to the largest concentration of Chinese people in the Cincinnati region? Is it just cheap and easy to access? What gives?

    Maybe, if the city could get its act together and put together a proposal to consolidate all inter-city buses in the Riverfront Transit Center, they would locate there. Any thoughts?

    • John Yung

      That was one of the angles I thought to pursue during my investigation. I consulted the NYTimes ethnicity map that uses the Census’s ACS data from 2005-2009 (http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer?ref=nyregion) and found that there is a sizable concentration in the census tracts in and around the drop off area. But what’s even more surprising is the concentration of Asian population in CUF near UC’s campus. It makes perfect sense for this type of service to move to the urban core.

    • http://5chw4r7z.com 5chw4r7z

      Could it be a better spot to draw from both Cincinnati and Dayton?
      Other wise it seems like an odd spot.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      It was interesting to notice during the run up to the Beijing Olympic Games. You could actually find quite a bit of pro-Beijing signs posted in people’s yards/windows throughout University Heights.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21405087 Neil Clingerman

      As evidenced by the number of restaurants in the area and the grocery, I think most of the Asian population around UC is actually South Asian – Indian/Pakistani, our census doesn’t distinguish between the two populations.
      Not to say that I don’t think it would be a good idea to get them into the Riverfront Transit Center.  That great facility should be used for something!

    • Brian Backscheider

      Easy access to Jungle Jims?

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

    One other thing I find interesting about this is how little service is offered between NYC and Cleveland. If you ever talk to Clevelands about regional dynamics, many will be quick to tell you how Cincinnati is more aligned with the South, and Cleveland with the Northeast…especially NYC.

    Although according to the Chinatown bus service from NYC, this is just not the case. I’m not sure I would have guessed that Cincinnati would be the top spot in Ohio and the Midwest, but I did think that Cleveland would have had more service.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Haven’t heard great things about Chinatown bus services.  I’ll probably stick with Megabus via Pittsburgh for future trips… you can sometimes get a layover of two hours or less, and downtown Pittsburgh isn’t a bad place to hang out for a little while.

    • Zachary Schunn

      PS:  My roommate’s taken this before.  He says the pick-up and drop-off locations are inconvenient but otherwise the service is good and the trip is fast.

  • Mike Swidrak

    I was looking to book tickets to take the Megabus to Pittsburgh (then to Phila) in March, but it looks like (I’m just surmising) that Megabus is phasing out its service between Cinti and Pburgh? This would be quite the bummer.

    • Anonymous

      They are phasing out the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh route on March 13. I believe the only way to get to Pittsburgh from CIncinnati via Megabus is through Chicago which just isn’t practical. It’s unfortunate, because I have family in Pittsburgh and it was a gateway to the East Coast as Pittsburgh is a major hub for Megabus.

      I’m assuming they just didn’t get the ridership they needed to make it affordable. Or perhaps they are moving those buses to accomodate for the Atlanta hub that just opened recently.

      Either way it sucks. I really like Megaubs (even if the Internet only worked 1 of 5 times). Hopefully they reestablish the route before too long.

  • Brian Backscheider

    Did I inspire this article in any way!? I thought I’d add my thoughts on the service. I had a good trip from NYC to Cincy with SkyHorse. After the bus driver threatened to fight a passenger who didn’t have a ticket, and then turned off our AC so we subsequently turned on said passenger until he left the bus, the ride was FAST (closer to 10 hours) and uneventful. You’ll hear Fung Wah horror stories of breakdowns and lost wheels but I’ve also heard stories of expert knowledge of back roads when the highway is backed up. I wouldn’t say that the service provided me a way to “experience Asian culture” but you do leave from Chinatown in NYC and the stop in Springdale is at an (former?) Asian Buffet (that was originally a Chi-Chi’s), so I guess that counts for something. The clientele on the bus seemed generally more diverse and lower class than Bolt/Mega Bus. Oh, and my ticket to Cincy was $30 and there was no branding just the word “Happy” with some clouds. Can’t beat that. The website for the whole network of Chinatown buses is gotobus.com.

    • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

      This is easily one of my favorite comments on UrbanCincy.com of all time.

    • http://5chw4r7z.com 5chw4r7z

      “You’ll hear Fung Wah horror stories of breakdowns and lost wheels…”
      I hope something like that happens when I take it to NYC!!

  • Anonymous

    I have heard a horror story of the Chinatown Bus. It’s kind of funny this article came up, because I heard of this service the day before this article was released.

    Essentially, the person I was talking to said that the driver of the bus had been driving for 13+ hours and couldn’t really stay awake anymore. Another passenger (who drives 18-wheelers) essentially forced the driver to let him take the wheel the remainder of the way to NYC until just before entering the city. I don’t know where the bus was coming from.

    I’m not trying to scare anyone away though. I would still use Chinatown if the price was right.

  • Anonymous

    I thought I would add my two cents to the conversation. I took both bus lines two weeks ago, Sky Horse on the way there and Coach 88 on the way back. Yes, the pick up locations are both strange. My impression was that this location has to do with ease of access to 75N and keeping the trip to Dayton a little shorter.

     The Sky Horse was awesome. Awesome if you enjoy seeing the fruits of capitalism. I got on the bus with my ticket and found a seat. The bus was pretty nice….nothing luxury, but clean. bathroom smelled slightly. Sat down upfront. 30 seconds later a girl gets on with a ticket to Coach 88, the wrong bus. The man collecting tickets launches into a tirade, just cursing his competition and kind of everything around. We left on the dot at 10:00 p.m.. As a previous comment stressed, they were moving. We flew to Dayton. We got off the highway and pulled into some strip mall parking lot to a waiting line of people. Again let me stress the expediency here. It felt like we were off the interstate for 15 minutes. That is exiting, pulling in, loading people and luggage, then back on. Back on the road, we were in Columbus in no time. A little bit longer stop there, they actually go into the city. Now with the bus full, it was full steam ahead. I happened to be up at 3:30 when again we made at most a 10 minute stop in West Virginia (I think) to switch drivers. It was flawless. These guys are machines. We pull up at a cheap motel, our driver gets out, closes us all back in, bus is still running. He walks over to a door and raises his hand to knock, I swear his knuckles don’t even reach the door, it opens, no words are exchanged, this other guy shoots out, takes the drivers seat, throws her in gear and we are back on the road. Most people slept through the whole thing. Onward, one more short stop around 5:30 in the morning at a gas station, this is the only time passengers are allowed out. I woke up just as we were crossing into NJ, sun was coming up, and it was beautiful. We arrived I believe over an hour early right in the middle of NYC. I was very pleased.Then I took the Coach 88 back. I knew something was wrong from the beginning. Where was the man cursing his competition? Where were the little personal garbage bags tied to everyone’s armrests? Bathroom really smelled. 45 minutes late leaving. Eventually, we finally got on the road. The first of many unnecessary stops was a couple hours in. Now being the middle of the night, they decide to put on an awful action movie being played quite loud…it may have played twice. They stop at the exact same exit where Sky Horse does in Somewhere, West Virginia….same cheap motel. But these guys take their sweet time there and I watch the Sky Horse bus pull in, having caught us. Two of our operators are gabbing upfront, one briefly smoking a cigarette in the bus, as the sweet efficient mechanism that is Sky Horse glides in and out before we can turn around. Once we hit Ohio, there were a series of stops where we would get off an exit, someone upfront would yell a name, no one would move, door closes, back onto the interstate we go…having accomplished nothing. Quite frustrating after having experienced the fine clockwork of Sky Horse. All in all, we got in almost exactly 45 minutes late. Moral of the story? Take the Sky Horse. I would even say it is worth the extra $20.00 bucks they charge for the Friday night ride, it is $30 for all other days. I believe that both of them run every single day. The Coach 88 on the way back was a Tuesday night and it was still at least 3/4 full.

    • http://www.facebook.com/charles.huck Charles Huck

      How do you guys had a $30 fee, on gotobus.com it’s $90, any day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/allenarena Tom Allen

    My biggest question… Do any of these buses have power outlets? Wi-fi is nice, but I’m more interested in playing music for hours and using my cell phone’s data plan to be “connected.”

  • oldfiekp

    I recently took the Chinatown bus from NYC to Cincinnati and will say it was one of the worst bus trips I have ever taken. In comparison, I have taken the Fung Wah from Boston to NYC then back again and have no complaints like wheels falling off or catching fire as many believe. First of many negatives, there is no station or sign hanging for where to board or wait. Once the bus arrived, we waited 20 minutes, where as the Boston/NYC Chinatown bus departs when the tickets says it departs. At this point, I was fine with everything and happy to be heading home. Once we got on the road we drove over to Brooklyn to drop some random things off and have a look at the engine. I started to get annoyed when we drove back through Chinatown on our way through Manhattan heading back home an hour later. Not sure why they couldn’t pick us up then? As the bus got underway we discovered the bus didn’t have wi-fi, air-conditioning, some of the seats didn’t recline, no outlets. We stopped an hour and a half into the trip to fill up, which if anyone is wondering, it cost $600 to fill up one of those buses! The bus is not a direct trip to Cincinnati as it stops Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati. At the end of the end, I would have rather drove to NYC and paid for gas and parking in NJ. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.huck Charles Huck

    How could I get a $30 ticket ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nathaly.laserna Nathaly Nicole Laserna

    where in nyc do it drop you off??

  • SwagHaver

    Could someone please explain how that Flow Map was made? What software/methods were use?