Feds order Boston-NY discount bus fleet inspected

February 26, 2013 - 8:31 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Federal regulators on Tuesday ordered a discount bus service operating between Boston and New York City's Chinatown to pull its entire fleet off the road for inspections over problems including cracked vehicle frames.

The announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration came after Massachusetts officials found serious problems on eight buses operated by the Fung Wah discount bus service.

The company had already agreed to take 21 buses off the road but the order removed all 28 from service "for thorough and detailed safety inspections."

By late Tuesday afternoon, three Fung Wah buses had returned to service after passing inspections in Massachusetts, said Mary-Leah Assad, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Utilities, which regulates the company. Additional inspections were ongoing in New York, she said.

Officials said the company had also chartered other buses to continue operations. Attempts to get comment from Fung Wah on Tuesday were not successful.

At the South Station bus terminal in Boston, the Fung Wah ticket booth had almost no activity late Tuesday afternoon, but a few of its customers were unfazed by the company's problems.

Andrew Wohlsen, an artist from New York, said he's found the service reliable and wasn't particularly concerned about the vehicles' safety.

"I guess because my own experience has been good," said Wohlsen, 32, although he allowed he "might think twice now."

Fung Wah has had a variety of problems, including a $31,000 fine in 2006 for safety violations after a rollover accident in Massachusetts injured dozens of passengers. In 2005, flames engulfed a Fung Wah bus moments after the passengers were evacuated in Meriden, Conn.

In safety measurements by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Fung Wah is in the bottom 3 percent nationwide for driver fitness, which evaluates training and experience. Four of their seven driver violations since 2011 came because the drivers didn't speak English. The company also rated poorly in the unsafe driving category, with nine speeding violations since September 2011, according to the online data.

In a letter to federal regulators, Department of Public Utilities Chairwoman Ann Berwick said the company attempted to repair its latest problem, but in some cases made them worse. She wrote that Fung Wah "is currently incapable of maintaining a fleet of motor coaches."

Dan Ronan of the American Bus Association said Tuesday that Fung Wah's spotty safety record puts the public at risk and makes responsible bus companies look bad.

"This is not a good company," he said. "Every time there's an accident, the industry gets tarred and feathered in a way that's unfair."

But Fung Wah customer Meldrick Fernandez, 19, of New York said he's used the service four times in the last month to visit his girlfriend in Boston and had no problems. The $15 ticket for most rides between Boston and New York is unbeatable, he said.

Fernandez added he wasn't worried about his trip home because the damaged buses had been replaced.

"It makes me wonder if the flaw wasn't pointed out, would they keep using those same buses?" he said. "But they're using different buses, so I can't worry about that."