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Buses will travel between Penn and Chinatown every 30 minutes between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m every other Saturday. Credit: Ethan Wu

Several Penn organizations are teaming up to offer a charter bus to Philadelphia’s bustling Chinatown neighborhood once again this semester.

Members of the Penn community are able to reserve seats on buses that travel between Penn and Chinatown every 30 minutes between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m every other Saturday. The service, offered by the Pan-Asian American Community House, Undergraduate Assembly, and Penn Transit, is available every other Saturday until Dec. 11, according to PAACH.

The bus starts at 30th and Chestnut streets and makes several stops on its way to Chinatown, including at the Penn Bookstore, 39th and Walnut streets, Schattner Center, the Quad, 34th and Spruce streets, and 33rd and Walnut streets.

The service will be offered for a full semester for the first time following its pilot launch last spring, where buses ran to Chinatown every Saturday from April 10 to May 1. Offering bus services every other week this fall allows PAACH to save money while offering a service that lasts throughout the entire semester, PAACH Director Peter Van Do said.

Bus capacities will be expanded from 20 to 40 this semester in light of Penn's requirement that all students and faculty get vaccinated for COVID-19, Van Do said. Only 20 passengers were permitted per bus last semester to accommodate for social distancing while vaccines were not widely available.

The program was devised last spring by 2021 Weitzman School of Design City and Regional Planning graduate Jingzhi Chang, who collaborated with PAACH to connect Penn's campus to the Chinatown community so students could support Asian-owned businesses.

Chang told The Daily Pennsylvanian in April 2021 that she conceived of the idea for the charter buses because of health concerns that some students had about using public transportation during the pandemic, as well as safety concerns amid a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes.

Like last spring, the UA will assist the charter buses this semester by providing volunteers who check in students and faculty as well as ensure that everyone is still wearing a mask when riding on the bus.

The UA's Dining, Housing, and Transit committee, created this year, will work closely with PAACH and Penn Transit to publicize and manage the service, UA Secretary and College sophomore Pranav Tadikonda said.

For some students, the bus service provides a convenient connection to an environment that represents home. College sophomore Kevin Huang said Chinatown is filled with familiar sights and sounds. Huang, whose family speaks the Fujianese dialect of Chinese, said it was rare to hear those who speak the same dialect as the one he hears at home.

“Chinatown's very culturally enriching, and I just like going there because it reminds me of home, just to be able to walk around and hear people that speak the same dialect that you wouldn't be able to normally hear just walking around campus,” he said. 

Huang praised the bus service for providing students a safe and effective way to travel to the cultural hub. He also used the service last semester, adding that he felt unsafe using public transportation amid COVID-19 and the uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes.

He said that he was glad to have an alternative to public transportation and recommended it to friends and mentees that he advised in the Pre-Freshman Program, a summer program for first-year students.

"I think just having accessibility to go into Chinatown and Penn giving us that ability for us to get to Chinatown easier and safer, I think it's just a really good program overall," Huang said.