Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Fung Wah Bus Transportation Inc., the largest Chinatown bus company operating between New York and Boston, was ordered to park its entire fleet of 28 buses because of safety concerns, U.S. regulators said.
The Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued the order to complete detailed inspections of the buses and company operations, the agency said today in a statement. The action came after the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities found cracked bus frames and repairs that appeared to make the defects worse.
“This carrier lacks an understanding of basic federal safety management system requirements and is currently incapable of maintaining a fleet of motor coaches,” Ann Berwick, the state department’s chairman, said in a Feb. 22 letter to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro.
Federal regulators have been increasing scrutiny of bus safety at discount lines that, like Fung Wah, often operate between Chinatown neighborhoods of large cities. Their growth has been booming as passengers seek discount tickets, which may sell for as little as $1.
The U.S. “imminent hazard” declaration applies to the 28 buses owned by Fung Wah, until the company convinces U.S. regulators the vehicles have been fixed, its drivers have been trained to properly report vehicle defects and the company has an effective safety management plan in place, according to the regulator’s order.
Fung Wah, which is still selling tickets on its website, isn’t shut down and is allowed to rent or lease other buses, Duane DeBruyne, a FMCSA spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Bus transportation is the fastest-growing form of intercity travel in the U.S., with scheduled departures increasing 7.5 percent last year, according to Chicago’s DePaul University.
On Feb. 14, the Transportation Department said it would send specially trained investigators to find and shut down unsafe bus companies across the country. That followed a sweep last May in which the department cited safety hazards in shutting down 26 companies operating in New York and Philadelphia.
The U.S. investigation of Fung Wah will include examination of vehicle safety records, and regulators “may consider additional actions against the company if warranted,” the FMCSA said.
Fung Wah employees who answered the phone at ticket offices in New York and Boston referred questions to the company’s office in New York. Calls to that number got a busy signal.
This month’s Transportation Department crackdown followed two fatal accidents. A Feb. 3 crash near Yucaipa, California, involving a bus from Tijuana, Mexico, killed eight people. Nine people died in a Dec. 30 wreck involving a Canadian company in eastern Oregon.
Fung Wah’s driver fitness record, based on data collected at roadside inspections, is worse than 97 percent of the bus industry, according to records on the FMCSA’s website. Its record on unsafe driving trails 66 percent of the industry.
Massachusetts inspectors looked at Fung Wah buses on Feb. 14 after receiving a complaint from Boston police that the company was operating three buses ordered off the road due to cracks in their frames, according to the state’s letter to FMCSA.
The state inspections resulted in two more buses being placed out of service, the letter said. Inspectors removed the license plates from one of the buses because of the severity of safety problems. Five more buses were taken off the road Feb. 20 because of frame cracks.
“The department has also noted that some of the attempted repairs made by Fung Wah to various buses appear to be substandard,” Berwick said. “The cracks appear to be larger than they were when the buses were initially inspected.”
Fung Wah meets the federal definition of a “high-risk” passenger carrier as outlined by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in announcing the federal crackdown, Berwick said, asking FMCSA to immediately declare the company a public safety hazard.
Fung Wah had agreed to take 21 of its 28 buses off the road voluntarily on Feb. 23 based on the state’s concerns, Berwick said. The state pushed for idling the entire fleet, she said.
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