Fri, Jul 22, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Expanded inspections of tour buses begin

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

A Directorate-General of Highways employee yesterday inspects a tour bus at a random checkpoint in Taipei.

Photo: Wang Yi-sung, Taipei Times

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications yesterday launched an expanded inspection of the nation’s tour buses after Tuesday’s bus fire on the National Freeway No. 2 killed 26 people.

Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) had announced the move at the legislature’s Transportation Committee, where he was scheduled to brief lawmakers about the tragedy and efforts to prevent similar accidents from happening.

The National Freeway Bureau, the Directorate-General of Highways (DGH) and the police have formed a 200-member team to inspect tour buses in freeway rest areas, parking areas and inspection points near the freeway toll-collection offices.

The DGH said the number of tour buses undergoing roadside inspections would be increased from 6,200 per month to 7,000.

Inspectors would check the expiration dates on bus fire extinguishers, if emergency exit doors can easily be opened from the inside or outside, if there are the required three emergency hammers and if the depth of the tire tread meets government standards, the DGH said.

Given that questions have been raised about built-in locks on the emergency exit doors on the bus in Tuesday’s fire, emergency exit doors are a main focus of the roadside inspections, the DGH said, adding that drivers would be fined between NT$9,000 and NT$90,000 if such doors are not working properly.

Hochen said tour bus operators cannot install built-in locks on emergency exit doors, which has sometimes been done to prevent unauthorized people from entering the bus to steal passengers’ belongings.

The minister faced a number of questions from committee members about problems with tour buses built or assembled in Taiwan and on integrated service providers.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said that a majority of the tour buses in Taiwan have chassis imported from overseas, with the rest of the bus parts assembled in Taiwan.

She asked why the ministry prohibits owners of small imported cars from modifying their vehicles, but allows tour buses to be assembled with parts from various sources.

Nobody can guarantee the safety of these buses, she said, adding that the ministry should provide incentives for bus owners to import an entire bus from overseas.

DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生) said that car companies face customs duties of 25 percent if they import an entire bus, but only pay 7 or 8 percent duty on imported parts.

The ministry and other government agencies should discuss if it is possible to lower the tariff for buses imported from overseas, they said.

DPP Legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) said that the bus in Tuesday’s fire was reported to have a lot of electrical equipment, which might have short-circuited the fusebox and sparked the fire — and he asked Hochen if the ministry has rules governing the use of electric appliances on tour buses.

Cheng also cited several accidents involving tour buses carrying Chinese tourists.

Many of them joined low-priced eight-day tours around the nation, he said, adding that bus drivers often have to engage in long-distance driving and take tourists to at least one shopping point a day.

DPP legislators Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) and Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬) said that Hong Kong or China-based integrated travel service providers have lowered the quality of the tour services offered to Chinese tourists and compromised their travel safety.

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