The story of the coming demise of Chinatown bus lines in New York City is a tale of multiple failures in both government and the media and shows that both have a bias against entrepreneurs that kills new, start up ideas with unfair regulations, faux public advocacy, and dismal reporting.
A “Chinatown buss” was a new idea in the late 90s pioneered by Chinese immigrants in the Big Apple. These were private buses that cruised the streets looking for fares like cabs do, picking customers up at curbside, not having fixed bus stops or routes, and going where ever the customer wanted to go within a defined area of the city. Because they originated in New York’s Chinatown area, they became known as “Chinatown busses.”
Unfortunately, their success led to their downfall when nosey politicians like Senator Chuck Schumer began to take notice of them. Schumer and other New York pols began to call for a crack down on the busses and started looking to hit them with an avalanche of stifling regulations meant to “save lives.”
To assist Schumer in that jobs-killing endeavor the National Transportation Safety Bureau jumped to conduct a “study” of the safety records of Chinatown busses and purported to have found that these busses had a death rate “seven times higher” than that of other services.
The NTSB study was used to fuel Schumer’s attack on the bus companies in New York and new, expensive regulations were brought down like a hammer on these small businesses.
Naturally, the progressive news media establishment was quick to flock to Schumer’s side and swallowed his press conferences and the NTSB’s report whole without any critical look at either.
But it turns out that practically everything in the NTSB study is a fraud.
In an extensive investigation into the NTSB report, Reason.com’s Jim Epstein found that practically every finding in the study is simply wrong.
First it must be noted that Epstein was denied any access to the government’s methods of the study. Even though it is an official, taxpayer supported study, the NTSB refused to allow Epstein to see any of its work. Worse, the NTSB has also refused to accede to Epstein’s Freedom of Information Act requests.
Just what is the NTSB trying to hide? Apparently a lot.
According to Epstein, “The study is bogus. Not only is the ‘seven times’ finding incorrect, the entire report is a mangle of inaccurate charts and numbers that tell us virtually nothing meaningful about bus safety. There’s no evidence that curbside or Chinatown buses are any less safe than any other kind of bus.”
Epstein discovered that the study didn’t actually look at Chinatown busses as a stand alone subject. It looked at all busses including Greyhound, Peter Pan, and other professional bus companies and lumped them in with Chinatown bus lines as if they were all one in the same.
Starting from that fraudulent metric, Epstein found that the NTSB report only went downhill from there.
Unfortunately, this thing served as the basis for Chuck Schumer and other politicians to come down like a ton of bricks on these cost-saving, customer-friendly transportation companies.
Finally, all of Sen. Schumer’s efforts to “save lives” by crushing the Chinatown bus companies may actually drive people back to their own cars. This, Epstein properly notes, will likely put more people in danger as autos are far and away more dangerous than any type of bus travel.
“Ironically, the regulatory crackdown that followed the release of this dreadful study may lead to more highway deaths,” Epstein points out. “The shrinking of the industry has caused bus ticket prices to spike considerably in the last year. That means fewer travelers will be enticed to leave at home a far greater threat to their safety, which is sitting in their driveways.”
That’s government for you.