US orders Fung Wah bus line to suspend passenger service over safety concerns
The US Department of Transportation Tuesday ordered the Fung Wah bus line to remove its remaining buses from service, leaving the troubled carrier to run reduced operations between Boston and New York using chartered buses.
The order from the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stops short of shutting down Fung Wah outright, as the company is still allowed to provide passenger services with buses it is chartering from other providers.
On Monday Massachusetts regulators ordered Fung Wah to remove three-quarters of its 28-bus fleet from service after inspectors found cracks in the frames of many of the company’s aging buses. State officials also asked federal regulators to intervene and remove the remaining seven buses in Fung Wah’s fleet from service.
On Tuesday afternoon Fung Wah was still running buses out of South Station, with passengers queueing up for the 3 p.m. departure to New York.
“I travel with them all the time and have never had any problems. I don’t want them to shut them down,” said Hector Pina of Boston, as he was boarding the Fung Wah bus for New York City.
“People always say Fung Wah is unsafe, they’ve been saying that for a long time, but I’ve been taking it for seven years and I’m okay,” said Kingsley Tan, a 20-year-old student at St. John’s in New York.
The US agency’s initial statement Tuesday morning said that it had ordered Fung Wah to “immediately cease passenger service” and subject its entire fleet of motorcoaches to detailed safety inspections. Agency officials later clarified that it has ordered referred only to those buses in Fung Wah’s fleet, not buses that the company chartered.
Fung Wah officials could not be reached for comment.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it will continue to work closely with its state law enforcement partners in Massachusetts and New York to ensure the safety of the traveling public.
It is unclear when Fung Wah could resume service.
Fung Wah, which offers Boston-New York tickets for as little as $15, pioneered low-cost bus service on the route, helping to drive down prices and spurring the entry of several other low-cost carriers into the market. But the company has come under intense scrutiny for safety violations.
Last month, one of its buses hit two pedestrians in Manhattan, according to news reports. In 2007, a Fung Wah bus crashed into a guardrail at the Allston-Brighton tolls, and a driver trying to change lanes wedged a bus atop a concrete barrier at the Weston toll booths. In 2006, a Boston-bound coach rolled over while rounding an interstate ramp, slightly injuring 34 passengers, and in 2005, one of its buses caught fire on a highway in Connecticut.
Fung Wah buses have been cited for 159 maintenance violations in the past two years, including 23 instances of cracked, loose, or broken frames, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Its drivers are ranked in the bottom 3 percent of drivers nationwide, based on experience and training.
Drivers have racked up a dozen speeding violations in the past two years and been cited six times for failure to speak English or operating without a commercial driver’s license, according to federal regulators.
State inspectors first discovered cracks in steering axles, motor mounts, engine cradles, and other locations in Fung Wah bus frames during a random inspection on Feb. 7.
Inspectors returned over the next few weeks and found similar problems in additional buses.