Passengers prepare to load a Fung Wah bus before leaving Manhattan for Boston.
Caleh Salih, 25, has traveled by rickety bus through poverty-stained India and war-torn Lebanon for her work with the non-profit International Crisis Group, "but nothing compares to the Fung Wah," she said.
Shuttling every half-hour between New York's Chinatown and Boston, Fung Wah was known for being fast, cheap, and blocking access to company safety records, which, after failing several safety inspections, is what lead the Department of Transportation in March to order the company to cease all operations.
To ride the Fung Wah wasn't just a trip, it was an experience, reeking with authenticity.
Pickup was at the curb in Chinatown, with large Chinese characters emblazoned on the bus and signs surrounding the station door. Tickets were sold online, or wordlessly at a counter. Onboard, it was a "sticky smelly situation" said Salih, with the air filled with the mixing aromas of the food fellow passengers picked up nearby. The air was also filled with coughing and sneezes, leading some customers to call it "The TB Express."
Then, mid-point through the trip, there was always a stop at the same shady Chinese buffet by the highway. Everyone piled out, silently smoked, then piled back on for a ride that could have its fair share of speed and swerving.
In 2006, a Fung Wah bus rolled over, injuring 34 passengers. Excessive speed was cited as factor in the accident, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The bus line was involved in six accidents between 2005 and 2008, including collisions with dividers and guardrails, a bus fire, and in one case, losing the rear two wheels while driving passengers on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Passengers queue for the Fung Wah.
But for penny pinchers, Fung Wah was a liberation.
Even an old competitor has fond feelings. "It's bittersweet," said BoltBus General Manager David Hall.
"There was always some buses at curbside, but they were the first ones to take it to the next level with curbside-to-curbside and selling tickets over the internet," said Hall.
Not everyone in the industry is sorry to see Fung Wah go. "It's hard when you have one bus line bottoming out the price," said Alex Bottiglio, marketing coordinator for GotoBus.com, an online bus ticket reseller.
Competition remains fierce with six other bus lines offering low-cost and speedy service between New York and Boston: BoltBus, Greyhound Express, Lucky Star, Megabus, Peter Pan, and Yo! Bus.
Comparing the NewYork to Boston buses
Megabus has the price advantage, selling advance tickets for $3, with prices rising based on demand. A standard next-day booking runs about $17-$21. Their double-deckers, unique in North America, boast Wi-Fi, power seats, and more legroom than a standard coach. The bus line also boasts the safest driving and best vehicle maintenance scores of the bunch.
For extra comfort, 60 percent of BoltBus's fleet in the Northeast sports leather seats. There's also extra legroom thanks to taking out a row of seats. Tickets usually run between $8-$17, up to $25 for same-day sales, and $40 for peak holiday travel.
* Scale of 0-100, 0 is best, above 50 is the intervention threshold for safety authorities. Note: Bolt, Greyhound Express and Yo! have the same safety scores because they share a fleet.
Except for Yo! Bus, commuters can score $1 ticket deals if they book ahead. Only on Megabus are those one-buck fares listed online. On Peter Pan and Greyhound Express, the first ticket of every schedule is sold for $1.
Caveat: no matter what the price, all tickets are nonrefundable, but most bus lines will let you reschedule tickets in advance for future dates.
The safety-conscious should note that Lucky Star had the lowest marks for safety and maintenance. Management did not return several messages left seeking comment.
You can always check out a carrier's safety record on fmcsa.dot.gov or download the free SaferBus App for iPhone and Android.
Commuters crave cheap bus tickets, said Bella Dinh-Zarr, North American director of Make Roads Safe, but it's important to choose a bus “without sacrificing life or limb for it."
First published March 27 2013, 11:30 AM