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Loyal riders now moved to choose

At the far end of the South Station bus terminal, ticket salesmen in rival booths face off, each targeting the same suitcase-dragging travelers.

From different counters comes the cry, ''Ticket to New York!" in a last attempt at recruiting. Walkie-talkies beep urgently, keeping counter workers connected to the buses being boarded outside.

Since the August arrival in South Station of Lucky Star Travel Pack, operated by Kristine Travel and Tour Inc., and Fung Wah Bus Transportation Inc., both of which used to operate out of Chinatown, competition for the Boston-to-New York City market has heated up. According to officials at Fung Wah and Travel Pack, prices for both have been raised on a one-way ticket from $10 to $15 to keep up with the additional costs of departing from South Station. Meanwhile, Greyhound Lines Inc. and Peter Pan Bus Lines Inc. have started offering lower Internet rates of $15 each way to match them.

With ticket prices now generally at the same level, travelers can base their choice of bus line on a range of other factors, such as where they prefer to arrive in New York and whether their taste runs to a corporate ambience or more alternative one.

Edward Sullivan, 23, of Somerville, chose Fung Wah for a trip to New York last week. He says their buses are faster than Greyhound's, and arrive in a better location in New York. And of course, there's the image.

''It has the allure of living on the edge," Sullivan said. ''It has a feeling of being a little bit more underground."

Brian Schultz, 29, of Seattle, just as determinedly, chose Greyhound for a business trip, purchasing his ticket online at the reduced rate. Schultz had heard the Chinatown buses were the cheap way to go but went with Greyhound for its reliability.

''I don't know their brand," Schultz said. ''There is a little more trust in Greyhound."

So far, with the four bus lines competing under the same roof, the Chinatown bus companies say they have lost business, while Greyhound and Peter Pan, which operate the route together under a pooling agreement, say they have seen an increase in riders choosing to board them instead.

Pei Lin Liang, owner of Fung Wah Bus Transportation Inc., and Jason Chung, vice president of Lucky Star Travel Pack, say that because of the shared location, they can't run buses as frequently as they used to.

Each company has one bus depart every hour, while each used to run buses every half-hour.

However, Liang said his company has still seen an estimated 35 percent increase in profits since it now charges an additional $5. He also said Fung Wah will soon be trying to get its own gate.

Both Chinatown bus lines drop passengers off in New York's Chinatown. Greyhound and Peter Pan buses arrive in New York's Port Authority terminal near Times Square.

Prior to their move to South Station, both Fung Wah and Travel Pack had operated off of the streets in Chinatown, and along the way racked up a large number of traffic citations from Boston Police for cramming streets with their curbside service.

The companies were also sued by Greyhound and Peter Pan, which accused the low-fare lines of ignoring federal regulations for intercity service. That suit, filed in April, has since been dropped.

Greyhound and Peter Pan say they have benefited since the two smaller bus lines moved in. Robert Schwarz, executive vice president of Peter Pan, says that over the past few months, ridership has increased significantly.

''Since the Asian carriers have come into the building, and since the Internet [rates], we are very pleased with our business," Schwarz said.

Dominic Musacchio, 22, of Boston, is one of the reasons why. Musacchio started riding the Chinatown bus lines three years ago. But he used Greyhound to New York last week.

He says when he went to Fung Wah's previous departure spot in Chinatown and found nothing, he ended up going to Greyhound. He said he never saw Fung Wah's ticket booth in South Station but would have used it if he had.

Liang and Chung say they can depend on the loyalty of their Chinatown customers. Roman Chang, chairman of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England, said the language barrier that many residents of the neighborhood face draws them to the discount bus lines, which employ native speakers of Chinese languages.

''I know a lot of Chinatown residents who don't speak English," Chang said. ''Someone who can speak their language is convenient."

But all other issues aside, Dave Widomski, a medical device engineer and a resident of Boston who took Greyhound to New York City last week, said he's grateful for the two new bus choices in South Station, even if he doesn't ride them. ''I'm glad they [Chinatown bus lines] came because they lowered the price for everyone," he said.

Courtney Gross can be reached at 

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