The authorities have revoked the licences of a Taiwanese tour agency and a tour bus owner after one of its buses careened off a highway on Monday, killing 33 and injuring 11 passengers in Taiwan's worst road accident in three decades.
The tragedy has raised major safety questions about Taiwan's tour bus industry, prompting the Transport and Communications Ministry to introduce measures to beef up safety standards. These include closer monitoring of tour bus drivers' performance and tightening the screws regulating the industry within a month.
Within the next two weeks, regulators will also step up inspections on tour bus companies across the island that did not meet standards during previous assessments.
The bus had been on the road for 19 years but had no seatbelts on passenger seats. Television footage showed a mangled mess at the accident site in Nangang district, Taipei, with the top half of the bus ripped off.
Also being investigated is the driver, who was among those who died in the crash, and his state of mind, amid speculation that the 48-year- old had suffered from fatigue after reportedly being behind the wheel for more than 12 hours.
The freeway authorities found that the bus was travelling at 60kmh, which exceeded the speed limit of 40kmh, before it veered off the highway in Nangang. The passengers, all Taiwanese and mostly senior citizens, were on their way back to Taipei after a day trip to view cherry blossoms at Wuling Farm in central Taiwan.
Offering his condolences to the families of those who died in the crash, Premier Lin Chuan said yesterday that a thorough review would be conducted.
Transport and Communications Minister Hochen Tan said at a press conference that his ministry had revoked the operating licence of tour bus owner Yeow Lih Transportation and ruled out road conditions as the cause of the accident.
Also being investigated is the tour agency involved, Tieh Lien Hua Travel Agency, which reportedly operated the bus and employed the driver, who was identified by only his surname, Kang.
His daughter, Ms Kang Yi-jen, told reporters that he had been driving for the last 17 days since the eve of Chinese New Year, and spent his only day off repairing the bus.
"He was also suffering a flu and had requested a day off, but the travel agency did not allow," she said.
But Mr Ringo Lee, a spokesman for the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan, said the driver had in fact rested for two days before driving on Monday.
Mr Lee told The Straits Times that the bus was in "good condition" and had passed a maintenance inspection last month.
The latest tragedy looks to be another setback for Taiwan's tourism industry, which has seen a 33 per cent drop in mainland Chinese tourist arrivals since May last year, when President Tsai Ing-wen took office.
Last July, a tour bus veered into a crash barrier and caught fire, killing all 25 Chinese tourists on board. An investigation found that the driver had intentionally set the bus on fire.