Investigation: Are Chinatown buses safe?

March 20, 2011 8:15:45 AM PDT
The cut-throat competition among dozens of low-cost bus companies in Chinatown provides cheap transportation for thousands of people every day.

But our investigation has found there are serious problems with many of those shiny, luxury buses and the people who drive them.

Attorney Noah Kushlefsky said, "If you're putting new buses on the road to attract customers and you need to save money you are going to save it behind the scenes."

And that's exactly what we found. We looked at five bus operators. All had serious violations, but three of the five are currently on alert status which means they're being inspected more frequently by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Casino bus operator, New Oriental Tour is on alert for unsafe driving with eight speeding violations and 46 maintenance violations.

Another casino bus company, Fujian Tours is on alert for "fatigued driving" and lax "maintenance" including violations for bad tires and faulty brakes.

"These carriers run on very, very low margins," Kushlefsky said.

Attorney Noah Kushlefsky has represented families in some of the nation's worse bus accidents.

He says these violations involve issues that end up causing most of the accidents.

"Most accidents we see are related to tires, often fatigue and brakes," Kushlefsky said.

But one operator really stood out for its number of repeated violations and safety alerts.

Since September of last year, Fung Wah, the largest bus company in Chinatown, has been placed on 16 federal alerts for fatigued driving, driver fitness and maintenance; 147 violations in the last two years from falsifying drivers records to speeding to bad brakes and tires.

That's far more than World Wide Tours, the bus company involved in Last Saturday's fatal crash.

Jim Hoffer asked Fung Wah manager Louisa Liang if their drivers drive too long behind the wheel. Liang said, "No! No!"

But our investigation has found that federal inspectors recently fined Fung Wah more than $14,000 for its safety violations and even threatened to close them down.

One of the manager's at Fung Wah's New York office insists the company is safe and that the problems have all been fixed.

Five years ago, more than 30 passengers were injured when a Fung Wah bus heading home from Boston slid off a ramp. Police said speed was a factor. Students say the safety issues won't keep them off Fung Wah because any fears are trumped by their low fares.

Jackson Luo said, "I'm still going to take this bus it's kind of cheap."

Student Daniel Brown added, "Unfortunately this is the cheapest and the most convenient."

The Motor Carrier Safety Program says Fung Wah submitted an approved plan of correction and is now operating under a conditional rating.

New Oriental Tour told us they've corrected all their violations and that they fix them as they appear.

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