U.S. cracks down on Chinatown bus operations; Philly firm targeted

New Century bus company offices in Chinatown, shut down Thursday by federal regulators for safety violations. Staff photo by Paul Nussbaum.
New Century bus company offices in Chinatown, shut down Thursday by federal regulators for safety violations. Staff photo by Paul Nussbaum.
Posted: June 01, 2012

Federal regulators shut down 26 curbside bus operators on Thursday, including three in Philadelphia, one in Delaware County, and seven elsewhere in Pennsylvania, in the largest bus safety crackdown in U.S. history.

The bus operators, which carried about 1,800 passengers a day along I-95 between New York and Florida, were cited for a variety of safety hazards, including drivers without valid licenses or medical certifications; buses with uninspected brakes, tires, and lights; and drivers who did not get mandatory rest periods. Many of the operations are so-called Chinatown buses, which offer inexpensive rides among Asian communities in Northeast cities.

The crackdown was part of a yearlong investigation after three bus accidents in early 2011 killed 21 people. All told last year, there were 24 bus crashes on routes between cities, killing 34 people and injuring 467, according to an unofficial tally kept by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Three bus operators, with 26 subsidiaries, were ordered Thursday to cease operations immediately because they posed an "imminent hazard" to the traveling public.

By targeting companies with multiple bus operations, investigators for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration were trying to stop bus companies from simply switching names to dodge regulators, federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

New Century Travel Inc., based in Philadelphia with 10 subsidiary companies, and Apex Bus Inc. and I-95 Coach Inc., both based in New York City with 16 subsidiaries, were ordered shut down.

New Century is based in Chinatown at 55 N. 11th St., according to federal safety records. A subsidiary firm, Wahoo Tour & Charter Inc., is based nearby, at 913 Wood St.

The third Philadelphia company is Universe Bus Inc., with operations at 2300 S. Ninth St.

Eight other companies were closed in Pennsylvania: Fujian Tourism Co. Ltd., of Springfield, Delaware County; New Egg Bus Inc. of State College; Asia Tours Inc., State College; All State Travel Bus Inc., Wind Gap; RA Transportation Inc., Lancaster; and Antai Tours Inc., Super Luxury Tours Inc., and 2003 Coach Inc., all of Wilkes-Barre.

Thirteen of the operators had been ordered to cease operations before, including Super Luxury Tours, which was ordered closed in March 2011 after one of its buses crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing passenger Troy Nguyen, 21, of Royersford, and the bus driver.

But Super Luxury continued to operate through New Century Travel, whose operating authority was revoked in 2010 and never reinstated.

There was no answer Thursday at the phone number listed for New Century.

A new federal rule enacted in April expands regulators’ abilities to go after such "reincarnated" companies by linking all companies owned by the same operators and preventing them from forming new shell companies.

LaHood urged travelers to use a new mobile-phone application, SaferBus, to evaluate bus companies’ safety records, and called on Congress to approve tougher bus-safety rules to give regulators greater authority to pursue "reincarnated" operators and increase the maximum penalty for violations from $2,200 a day to $25,000 a day.

None of the operators ordered closed Thursday was fined, said Anne S. Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. But, she said, "our work is not finished. ... We are at liberty to go in and levy fines as our investigation continues."

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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