Taipei, (Taiwan News)—In the wake of the fatal tourist bus incident Monday that killed 33 and injured 11, lawmakers and the public have called for the government to improve tour bus safety regulations.
The 19-year old Volvo tour bus returning back from a trip to Wulin Farm in Central Taiwan, crashed and tumbled off the ramp connecting Freeway No.5 and Freeway No. 3 in eastern Taiwan on Monday. The roof of the bus, which is suspected of being constructed of substandard parts, came off as it rolled downhill.
Driver fatigue has been cited as the most likely cause of the accident. The deceased driver, Kang Yu-hsun, was on duty for 16 hours that day.
Premier Lin Chuan admitted on Thursday current tour bus evaluation systems are over dependent on market mechanisms, which are ineffective in ridding high-risk tour bus packages, or halting the industry from cutthroat price wars.
Some notable suggestions among critics include:
- Amend driver work hour regulations
Taiwan's current coach driver regulations stipulate drivers can only work a maximum of 10 hours per day, but work hours are narrowly defined by the Ministry of Labor as the time drivers spend behind the wheel. Although, drivers are given a 30 minute break every four hours, this includes time spent waiting on tourists. Additional hours drivers spent waiting for tourists to return to the bus should follow Japan's model of listing it as work hours. Drivers are usually stressed during this time, hence it should be counted as work hours, said expert Kuo Yu-liang (郭育良), Chief of Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at National Taiwan University Hospital. Adequate hours of rest for drivers between long-hauls should also be introduced.
- Raise tour bus drivers regular salary and lower overtime wages
Tour bus drivers voluntarily work overtime because they are underpaid, but can receive high overtime pay, making them willing to work up to 14-16 hours per day, said Kuo. Government regulations should focus on raising drivers wages, and lowering incentives for them to work overtime.
- Impose heavier fines on tour bus operators that do not follow regulations
Most traffic fines are a slight slap on the wrist in Taiwan. For instance, Yeow Lih Transportation (友力通運), the company that deployed the bus in the fatal incident had its license revoked, but only faces fines between of NT$9,000-90,000, if it does not follow the Ministry of Transportation and Communication's requests to halt operations and send bus evaluation documents to the ministry. Heavier fines would work as a better deterrent.
- Regulate years in service of buses
Taiwan currently does not have any regulations on when tour buses should be retired from a fleet, since legislators were unable to arrive to an agreement on limiting it to 10 years of service, said DGH Motor Vehicle Division Director Lin Fu-shan (林福山). Although, the law stipulates that tour buses for school tours need to have been in service for less than 8 years, there are no regulations on old buses used in other types of tours. The government should step up the frequency of inspections, while placing stricter regulations on modified buses to ensure structural safety is not compromised for lower costs. Directorate-General of Highways (DGH) mandatory biennial evaluations should also be upgraded to annual inspections to ensure tour buses are safe to ride in.
- Government should make seat belts mandatory on tour buses
Passengers in the front rows, close to emergency exits or in the back row are required to fasten their seat belts at all times on a tour bus, but not people in other seating arrangements. Current regulations on mandatory seat belts are only required for small vehicles, and the MOTC is still considering if it should make it a mandatory requirement for all vehicles.
Stricter government measures can help curb the operation of sub-standard tour buses, and hopefully force unscrupulous companies to exit from the market. However, it is equally important to educate consumers to not buy ultra-cheap tour packages, and discourage travel agencies from sacrificing tourist safety for better profits.