Amid a surge in the number of tour buses on the nation’s roads, bus operators are facing a severe shortage of drivers as well as an aging population of employed drivers, two problems which raise serious safety concerns, the National Joint Tour Bus Association said.
There are only enough drivers to operate about 85 percent of the nation’s 13,500 tour buses, National Joint Tour Bus Association president Hsu Hao-yuan (徐浩源) said, adding that bus operators were also faced with the pressing issue of the advanced age of their drivers, some of whom are in their 60s.
Hsu said the conditioning and stamina of most drivers was not adequate for long-distance driving, adding that several drivers were planning to quit their jobs and become short-distance drivers instead, which would further aggravate the employment shortage in the tour bus sector.
Chen Chih-sheng (陳智勝), former president of the association, gave an example to highlight the gravity of the situation.
Chen’s company recently posted a help-wanted advertisement looking for several bus drivers under the age of 45. Only two people inquired about the job vacancies, and of those two, only one came for an interview.
Furthermore, both respondents were older than 60 years of age, which raised concerns about their likelihood of being employed, Chen said.
In light of the pressing matter, the association is urging the government to lift some of the restrictions regarding drivers to address the problem.
Last year, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications relaxed some of the employment regulations for bus drivers. The ministry made it possible for the holders of large passenger motor vehicle driver’s licenses to become eligible to operate a medium-sized bus after one year of experience and a tour bus after three years of experience.
Hsu said the pay for tour bus drivers was reasonable. Drivers with steady routes in northern Taiwan received a monthly salary of between NT$50,000 and NT$60,000, while those in central and southern parts of the nation make between MT$40,000 and NT$50,000.
Hsu called on the authorities to allow drivers with large passenger motor vehicle licenses to be made eligible to operate medium-sized buses and sightseeing buses one year after passing a test in a simulator.
In response, Department of Highways and Railways Director-General Chen Yen-po (陳彥伯) said a major factor in the employment shortage could be that operators were refusing to issue employment certificates to their drivers — used to verify their experience — in a bid to avoid their employees leaving to work for other companies.
However, alternative experience verification methods were being considered, Chen said, including employment history verification via the labor insurance and health insurance programs, or orders could be sent to operators by the Motor Vehicles Office demanding the issuance of employment certificates.
Chen also said further evaluations by the ministry would be required to evaluate the feasibility of using simulation models, currently used for training purposes only, as a qualification tool to assess a driver’s eligibility to operate tour buses.
Translated by Stacy Hsu, Staff writer