Fung WahTF

By SHAWN MUSGRAVE  |  March 20, 2013

The FMCSA claims it was misled during Fung Wah's compliance review by bogus safety records. Fung Wah faxed two handwritten invoices from a "certified" welder in Marshfield to DPU, but the actual inspections of the vehicles themselves indicated that Fung Wah had conducted only slapdash repairs that fell short of manufacturer standards. In an email to DPU, the New Jersey mechanic now overseeing the recertification of Fung Wah's full fleet said the welding repairs he found "look horrible" and would require extensive overhaul to be anywhere near roadworthy.

violation-printout---6-viol2
When the full extent of the damage became clear, a DPU email noted that buses of Fung Wah's age and design were "notorious for frame cracks," and that "proper repair and maintenance is crucial to a safe fleet." This suggests that Fung Wah's fleet should have been carefully monitored for cracks, and their maintenance measures diligently assessed. If, in DPU's words, Fung Wah lacks "any formal internal controls or infrastructure to repair and maintain its motor coaches," why wasn't such a glaring maintenance gap addressed earlier?

Both the FMCSA and DPU were harsh on Fung Wah for inadequately repairing their vehicle frames. But state inspectors had to approve these repairs before buses went back into service. A DPU spokesperson insists that the agency thoroughly inspected Fung Wah buses with vehicle safety violations and certified their repairs prior to allowing them to carry passengers again. But upon February's second look, inspectors found that many of the repairs previously approved by DPU were shoddy or "inappropriate." DPU confirmed that a number of cracks that made Fung Wah such a hazard were in the same places their own inspectors cited in violations from previous checks.

DPU, for its part, puts responsibility on federal regulators, claiming its authority stops at pulling individual vehicles off the road. "Our inspection reports go directly to the FMCSA," said the DPU spokesperson. "Our scope is to do bus inspections." When asked why Fung Wah wasn't more aggressively regulated after the August citation for ignoring inspector orders, a DPU spokesperson said that "DPU doesn't have a role in that since we don't license Fung Wah. That goes from law enforcement to the feds or another disciplinary authority."

Even if it lacks authority to shut down an interstate carrier, the state only approached the FMCSA to encourage strict federal enforcement in recent weeks. DPU issued regular citations to the company for unsafe maintenance for years, and its own databases were a testament to Fung Wah's state of disrepair.

For its part, the FMCSA isn't about to own up to sluggishness on enforcement against Fung Wah. A spokesperson at FMCSA explained that the agency revoked Fung Wah's license under its new authority to shut down companies that refuse to cooperate with safety inspections, a power which was granted by Congress just last summer. But the FMCSA has long had the discretion to curb carriers who pose an "imminent hazard" to safe highway travel. Since the Fung Wah shutdown, FMCSA regulators have ordered two more companies to cease operations under the same discretion, one in NYC Chinatown and another in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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