Taiwan tightens the screws on tour bus industry after crash

A bus that crashed along a highway is lifted by cranes in Taipei, on Feb 14, 2017.
A bus that crashed along a highway is lifted by cranes in Taipei, on Feb 14, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Taiwan is clamping down on the tour bus industry after a bus crash led to 33 deaths and 11 casualties, in its worst road accident in 30 years.

Tougher curbs on the number of hours that bus drivers can be behind the wheel and other measures were announced yesterday at a press conference.

Deputy Transport and Communications Minister Wang Kwo- tsai said these measures are to ensure travel safety and would take effect from this weekend.

This would be in time for a four-day break over the weekend leading up to next Tuesday, a holiday marking an anti-government uprising that resulted in a brutal crackdown, when many are expected to take coach tours.

Under the Vehicle Transportation Management regulations, tour bus drivers are not allowed to drive for more than 10 hours a day. This means day trips that run from morning to night will have two drivers to share the workload.

Under the Vehicle Transportation Management regulations, tour bus drivers are not allowed to drive for more than 10 hours a day.

This means day trips that run from morning to night will have two drivers to share the workload.

If drivers cannot be switched, tour agencies are to offer other modes of transport such as the high-speed rail or commuter trains.

If drivers cannot be switched, tour agencies are to offer other modes of transport such as the high-speed rail or commuter trains.

The Directorate General of Highways also announced that it will recall 5,157 older tour buses from next month for inspection, to ensure they are in good condition.

Last week's accident has put the spotlight on overworked bus drivers and unsafe buses that are still on the road.

While investigations are still ongoing, the local media reported that the 48-year-old coach driver who died in the accident had suffered from fatigue after driving more than 12 hours and working for 16 days without many rest days.

The bus in the accident had been on the road for 19 years and had no seat belts on passenger seats.

Mr Chang Hsi-tsung, deputy director-general of the Tourism Bureau, urged consumers to be more cautious when choosing tour packages and not go for the cheapest option, adding that "safety is the first priority".

Mr Ringo Lee, a spokesman for the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan, welcomed the focus on safety, but told The Straits Times that employing another driver will increase costs for tour companies, which are already facing a manpower crunch.

Meanwhile, while local media reported that the heads of the Tourism Bureau and the Directorate General of Highways had offered to resign, Mr Wang said yesterday that both men have been asked to stay on until the investigations are over.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan tightens the screws on tour bus industry after crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe