It took nearly a week from Fung Wah's flagrant violation until DPU notified the feds or brought the cracked buses in for reinspection. DPU inspectors found further frame cracks in three more checks over the next two weeks, even condemning bus number 106 as "structurally deficient" and removing its registration plates entirely. In total, regulators cited seven of Fung Wah's 29 buses for serious safety issues, and pressured the company to take out of service all vehiclesthat had been built before 2005.
The FMCSA stepped in a week later with a Feb. 25 order that Fung Wah cease operations and present its whole fleet for inspection in New Jersey. When the company refused to turn over its safety records, the FMCSA revoked the company's operation license entirely on March 1.
WHAT TOOK THEM SO LONG?
Three weeks is damn near breakneck response time on a federal scale, but Fung Wah's inspections and safety record had screamed for closer scrutiny for years.
In a Feb. 11 email, DPU administrator Brian Cristy acknowledged that "this is not the first time Fung Wah has disregarded an OOS [out-of-service] order." Six months earlier, on Aug. 23, 2012, BPD cited a Fung Wah driver for operating in violation of a failed safety inspection. Just a half hour before, state inspectors had ordered the vehicle be taken out of service after finding an exhaust leak and a frame crack near the front axle of the bus. (This driver was the same one who would, on Feb. 7, be ticketed for violating a failed safety inspection.)
While this was virtually identical to the incident that set off the February crackdown, neither state regulators nor the FMCSA took the August encounter as the red flag it might have been. Between Jan. 2011 and its August citation, Fung Wah had already accumulated 23 inspection violations for cracked bus frames, 20 of them serious enough for the vehicles to be ordered off the road. By comparison, Bolt Bus racked up just eight frame cracks over the same period, only three of which were deemed serious enough to mandate repairs. Lucky Star, Fung Wah's closest competitor, fared slightly better with four frame cracks since Jan. 2011, while Megabus has received zero citations for frame cracks in the past three years for which state and federal regulators maintain records. Compared with its budget fellows, Fung Wah was a frequent offender.
In its Feb. 25 Imminent Hazard declaration, the FMCSA accused Fung Wah of letting its fleet "deteriorate to the point that their operation significantly increases the likelihood of serious injury or death." Even basic tracking would have allowed regulators to see Fung Wah's pattern of violations months earlier. Six of the seven buses which had cracks in their frames in February had been cited for the same violation during previous inspections. Two were cited for frame cracks in January 2011 and in January 2012.
A casual skim of FMCSA's own inspections database unearths this string of maintenance citations stretching back to early 2011, and yet the agency saw no cause to kick Fung Wah's tires more skeptically until last month. The company even passed its FMCSA compliance review in January. Tellingly, this review was a scheduled one, which gave Fung Wah plenty of notice to prepare. And, despite the company's dismal track record, it entailed no actual vehicles inspections. Rather, federal regulators glanced over Fung Wah's safety documentation, found everything seemingly in order, and gave its fleet a pass.