Road crash: New rules for Taiwan tour bus operators

Investigators examining the wreckage of a tourist bus to try to find out the cause of the crash that killed 33 people and injured 11 in Taipei last week.
Investigators examining the wreckage of a tourist bus to try to find out the cause of the crash that killed 33 people and injured 11 in Taipei last week.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Taiwan has ordered local tour agencies to suspend day-long bus tours from Taipei unless two people share the driving duties, in the wake of the island's worst tour bus crash in 30 years.

The island's Tourism Bureau has also capped the distance that each driver can cover per day. On regular roads, a single driver cannot drive more than 300km a day, while those travelling over mountain ranges can cover no more than 200km a day.

The new curbs will affect up to 500 tours to popular tourist destinations like the mountainous Alishan region, Wuling Farm in Central Taiwan, Hualien in the eastern coast, and Kenting in the south.

Such tours are considered "high-risk" as drivers spend long hours on the road and face uncertain conditions, said the tourism bureau's deputy director-general Chang Shi-chung. Agencies that flout the rules will be fined up to NT$50,000 (S$2,300).

The tougher rules were announced on Tuesday, in response to a bus crash last week that killed 33 people and injured 11. It put the spotlight on overworked drivers and unsafe buses.

The move will hit local tour agents already losing business as the number of mainland Chinese tour groups dwindles. There has been 33 per cent fewer since May last year when President Tsai Ing-wen took office. Mr Ringo Lee, a spokesman for the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan, also expects the domestic travel market to decline by 30 per cent.

The latest measures will kick in this weekend, in time for a four-day break leading up to a memorial on Tuesday marking an anti-government uprising that resulted in a brutal crackdown, when many are expected to take coach tours.

They add to rules announced on Monday by the Transportation and Communications Ministry that recalled 5,000 tour buses from next month for inspection. Under Vehicle Transportation Management rules, tour bus drivers can drive no more than 10 hours a day if they hit that before reaching 300km.

Taipei tour operator Lin Wei-yang, 59, said: "For now, we have to bite the bullet and absorb the losses but hopefully, this will restore people's confidence in the industry and let us start afresh."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Road crash: New rules for Taiwan tour bus operators'. Print Edition | Subscribe