The Audacity of Fung Wah

Internal records show just how little the bus company's managers cared for safety inspections.

When Federal authorities demanded Fung Wah cease bus service between Boston and New York immediately last month, they cited not only structural flaws in the frames of the buses, but management that was “currently incapable of maintaining a fleet of motor coaches.” What exactly does that mean? Well, for the final issue of the Boston Phoenix, Shawn Musgrave obtained inspection records and internal emails between regulators that revealed just how flippant Fung Wah’s managers seemed in the face of safety inspections. Here’s a telling anecdote:

On Feb. 7, Boston Police Department fined Fung Wah $2,000 for continuing to operate three buses that had been ordered off the road by state inspectors after serious cracks were found in their frames

According to an email from BPD, the ticketed Fung Wah manager took the violation stickers off as soon as the inspector left the lot and “had the buses take passengers from South Station to out-of-state locations.” When the vehicles were inspected again on Feb. 13, each bus had clocked between 1300 and 1800 additional miles on their odometers. The Boston-Manhattan trip being around 250 miles each way, that suggests these vehicles made the round-trip journey three times each, between them ferrying as many as 1000 passengers from Boston to New York and back after the condemnation.

But does it reeeally matter that the frames had cracks in them? you might be asking. Well, Ann Berwick of the state’s Department of Public Utilities told the Boston Globe last month that such cracks can cause a driver to lose control of the steering and cause a crash. So … yes. But were Fung Wah’s cracks reeeeeally that bad? Well, a mechanic quoted by the Boston Phoenix said, upon inspecting one of the frames, “it looks like the bus is breaking in half.” So … yes.

Musgrave undertook this project to figure out why it took regulators so long to shut down a company that pretty much everyone assumed was breaking the rules. Neither state nor federal regulators seem to have a good answer for him. Perhaps the lesson, then, is that when a bus company obtains a quirky reputation for flagrant safety violations, its usually for good reason, even if regulators haven’t yet stepped in. Just because regulators haven’t yet taken a vehicle off the road doesn’t mean, you know, that the company hasn’t ripped a sticker off the bus declaring it unworthy of travel… As a spokesperson for the federal department that shut down Fung Wah says in the Phoenix, “price should not be only the determinant of which bus carrier you take.”