Few travelers who have ridden a Greyhound bus would consider the experience luxurious. But a hotly competitive group of so-called Chinatown bus companies are moving in on the company's biggest East Coast routes by offering rock-bottom prices and no-frills service. For a trip from Boston's Chinatown to a street corner in front of the Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Manhattan, Fung Wah and rival Travel Pack/Lucky Star charge just $10--and throw in a screening of a Jackie Chan movie. Greyhound charges $30 for the same trip. Fung Wah now claims to be the largest carrier on the busy Boston-New York route, and other Chinatown companies offer regular service to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Va., for a fraction of Greyhound's price.

But which frills can be cut from a humble Greyhound? Bus stations, advertising, English-speaking staff and (occasionally) heated buses. Fares have also been kept low by fierce competition among the Chinatown lines. At times, perhaps, too fierce: New York police took 16 buses off the road last week for failing inspection, and are investigating whether the murders of two Chinatown bus employees and a spate of assaults are related to friction between rival companies. But customers don't seem fazed. "I don't know why anyone would take Greyhound," says Dan Wong, a student from Broomhall, Pa., who's ridden Chinatown buses all over the East Coast. "This is much cheaper."