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Passengers say bus firm unresponsive

Fire, delays left many in difficulty

Already traumatized after the Fung Wah bus carrying them had caught fire en route to New York from Boston Tuesday, irate passengers said yesterday the company ignored their pleas for medical help and insurance claims once they arrived in New York.

When the bus finally arrived at Fung Wah offices on Canal Street in Manhattan late Tuesday, passengers said, the lights in the tiny office were turned off and women working the ticket counter told them to come back the next day.

Angry passengers did not budge, however, and staged a mini-protest that did not end until a New York police officer ran the license plate of the bus and gave passengers the company's insurer.

''The insult may be far worse than the injury in this case," said Mark Holliday, 37, of Belmont, who was on the bus with his brother and sister-in-law.

The blaze, which occurred on Interstate 91 in Meriden, Conn., at about 2 p.m., was the second time in five months that a bus going from Chinatown to Chinatown had caught fire. In March, a bus operated by Travel Pack, a company that also offers $15 rides between Boston and New York, was destroyed by fire near the Allston-Brighton tollbooths on the Massachusetts Turnpike. No one was hurt in either fire.

''They're not very cooperative," said Dumisani Nyoni, 24, who went to New York Tuesday to visit friends and took a Fung Wah bus back to Boston yesterday. ''The New York people wouldn't do anything with us. They said to contact the Boston office. When I got to Boston, they weren't very cooperative at all."

Yesterday, Fung Wah officials said passengers should contact the Boston office for information on how to file insurance claims.

''Obviously it was a terrible incident," Fung Wah lawyer Lawrence R. Kulig said. ''Fung Wah will take efforts to determine to customers what losses they may have suffered, and will act responsibly about compensating them."

Mona Louis, a Fung Wah spokeswoman, said the company's owner, Pei Lin Liang, had traveled to Connecticut to deal with the bus that had caught fire, leaving only one ticket seller to handle the crowd of passengers in New York. The worker was instructed to take passengers' contact information so the company could reach them at a later date, but ''the people wouldn't cooperate," Louis said.

In response to the blaze, Paul Alfonso, head of the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy, said Fung Wah and Lucky Star, another low-fare bus operator out of South Station, would be subject to surprise inspections three times a month. Currently, the buses are inspected once a month.

Several passengers interviewed yesterday said the bus driver offered no help immediately after the accident, apologizing for the fire but doing little else.

After a local school bus took them to Wallingford, Conn., passengers said they waited two hours for another Fung Wah bus to take them to New York.

Once they arrived at Fung Wah's New York location, ''we went up and knocked on the door, and there were clearly people in there, and they just shook their heads no," Holliday said.

New York police officers, responding to a passenger's phone call, demanded that Fung Wah officials provide insurance information to passengers. At one point, bus officials provided a phone number for an insurer that turned out to be disconnected.

Finally, the officers ran the bus's license plate and distributed the insurer's name and telephone number to passengers.

Meriden fire officials said they have not yet completed their investigation of the blaze.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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