In 2005, the company was given a federal safety rating of 73 out of 100, 100 being the worst, and 75 or above considered at risk of being unsafe and subject to crashes. Ian Grossman of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported that Fung Wah drivers rated in the worst 2 percent of drivers nationwide based on regulator violations, and nine out of 71 Fung Wah drivers were suspended after inspection between 2004 and 2006.
One reader was at the scene of the burning bus featured in the above news report:
The last time I took a trip with Fung Wah we had to stop on the side of I-95 in SW Connecticut to pick up the passengers of an earlier bus that had caught on fire and was, literally, burning on the highway with the remaining passengers watching. Over the years, I’ve been on busses run by Fung Wah that have passed trucks on the shoulder of the highway, blown through red lights, and sped well over the generally acceptable speed limit. I was also bitten by one of a half-dozen chickens that an elderly woman had brought aboard and released from their cages, to the apparent indifference of the driver.
I am sure other readers will chime in with their own horror stories riding the Chinatown bus. My one ride to the Mohegan Sun Casino from Boston's Chinatown resulted in the bus breaking down 45 minutes into the trip and a wait on the side of the highway for well over an hour for a replacement bus. I'd estimate my college friends who used it more often recalled stories of unsafe speeds, suspected intoxication, and odd vehicle noises on more than 50 percent of their trips. Oh yes, as for pick up and drop off locations, don't expect anything as lavish as a bus station. You've got to find the right street corner.
Of course, the Fung Wah buses are also a fine example of the dangers of UNREGULATED raw capitalism, as they tend to not observe passenger limits, cramming people in for an extremely grueling, uncomfortable ride to make as much money as they can, and the buses have had problems with poor maintenance (one caught fire mid-route; one lost a wheel) and poorly trained, tired, and/or inattentive drivers (there have been several notable accidents).
I admire the power of the free market to find and exploit a niche too, but I am convinced that capitalism demands supervision. And, incidentally, when I go to New York from Boston, I pay more and take the train.
I use the Fung Wah and other Chinatown bus services plenty, but I do it *despite* their customer service. I know I have to arrive early, because if their buses fill up, they will not refund tickets, even if they've sold more tickets than they have seats. Nor will they grab an extra bus, as Greyhound does. You're just out of luck. And don't even try to get credit on another trip, much less a refund – they'll simply ignore you.
Fung Wah does indeed embody the genius of capitalism – testing just how much crap people will settle for if the price is really, really low. When the economy's bad, or just when a lot of people are poor, the answer is "a whole lot". But let's not pretend this is any kind of win-win outcome. It's more like bitter scrabbling for crumbs – which is, coincidentally, what it looks like when people try to cram into the New York-Baltimore Fung Wah bus.
These cheap-o bus companies steal public resources by using the streets as bus stations, instead of paying to use public bus stations. They park illegally while they load and unload, block lanes, cause traffic problems, and create crowds of people standing around on streets with no facilities while they wait to board buses or meet up passengers who are arriving. Try getting through Herald Square by walking, city bus, or taxi while these "curbside" buses companies and their passengers are blocking large public areas.
The Chinatown buses were developed as a way for people to travel cheaply and anonymously between Chinatown districts on the East Coat. The riders are/were primarily immigrant (legal and otherwise), and therefore less likely to complain about the state of their travel.