The popular East Broadway stop under the Manhattan Bridge — typically abuzz with ticket sellers, passengers and idling sparsely labeled motorcoaches — was no more than a quiet side street Friday afternoon, a day after the federal government shut down 26 bus operators in the single largest safety crackdown of the industry.
Two blocks away, he Chinatown office of New Century Travel, one of the operators shut down in the sweep, was shuttered on Friday afternoon. The company operated routes to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., leaving no clear option for a Chinatown to D.C. bus trip. That route was one of the first to become popular -- originally with college students and other very price sensitive travelers -- a key step in helping the curbside bus model spread from a cheap alternative to Greyhound for supercommuting members of the Chinese community and into the a mainstream mode of travel it has become. Curbside buses are the fastest growing mode of travel in the nation.
Speaking in Chinatown Thursday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that over the course of a year-long investigation, his agency learned these companies were "blatantly and repeatedly" violated federal safety laws, including using drivers without valid commercial licenses and failing to do drug and alcohol testing.
"Shutting them down will save lives," LaHood said.
Teams of officials for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, armed with legal orders declaring the bus operations imminent hazards to public safety, swooped down Wednesday on companies based in six states: Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Officials withheld details about the operation until Thursday.
The shutdown orders were aimed at the companies' headquarters and at bus pickup locations. Most of the 233 bus routes serviced by the companies either departed from or terminated in New York City's Chinatown district. The DOT says the routes shut down served 1,800 passengers a day.
Not all companies were shut down, Fung Wah bus, arguably the most well known brand of Chinatown bus which serves trips between New York and Boston, continued operations unchanged, as did other lines serving Boston, and at least two serving trips from New York to Virginia, South Carolina and Baltimore.