An accident in a popular tourist area on Wednesday has brought attention to the safety implications of a shortage of qualified tour bus drivers, with the tourism industry estimated to be in need of an additional 2,000 drivers, tourism industry business owners said yesterday.
A tour bus operated by Shih Tong Tour Bus Co carrying 13 South Korean tourists slid off a precipitous road in Taroko Gorge National Park in Hualien County on Wednesday. The driver, 59-year-old Chen Cheng-ching (陳正欽), was licensed to drive regular large trucks, but not tour buses, a Directorate-General of Highways official said.
After the accident, the National Joint Association of Bus for Tourists issued an apology, but association chairperson Hsu Hao-yuan (徐浩源) said a shortage of qualified drivers had been exacerbated by a rapid increase in Chinese tour groups.
“We hope the government will take the problem seriously and help business owners in the tourism industry solve the problem,” Hsu said.
Hsu said current regulations should be relaxed to allow drivers who have a license to operate large buses to automatically qualify for medium buses, instead of having to wait one year, and be able to drive tour buses after one year, instead of three years.
Current regulations stipulate that drivers must have a professional bus driver’s license for a year before they can drive medium-sized buses, and must have three years of experience driving large buses and six hours of special training before they can qualify to obtain a tour bus driver’s license.
The government could also use simulators to issue drivers a tour bus license after a training period of a few hundred hours, Hsu said, adding that the government should encourage taxi drivers to shift over to buses, as there are already too many idle taxis.
Travel Agent Association of Taiwan secretary-general Roget Hsu (許高慶) said owners of tour bus companies had told the Ministry of Transportation and Communications that the influx of Chinese tour groups had led to a shortage of drivers.
The turnover rate for bus drivers is very high, with many drivers choosing to become tour guides in recent years because of higher wages, Roget Hsu said, adding that drivers earn between NT$50,000 and NT$60,000 per month, while tour guides make about NT$100,000 per month.
He said government policy encourages foreign tourism, but has done little to upgrade tourism industry resources, with the shortage of drivers becoming a real issue.
Roget Hsu added that there are many loopholes in the Tourism Bureau’s regulations. For example, the Tourism Bureau specifies that Chinese tour groups must use buses that are less than 10 years old, while tour groups from other countries do not have to follow the same regulations, he said.
The deputy chief of the bureau’s hotel, travel and training division, Chen Chiung-hua (陳瓊華), said the regulations were in place because Chinese groups had to give an itinerary before the tour and because their tours lasted longer.
“On average, we have nearly 7,200 Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan per day. If there are 25 tourists per bus, that would mean there are about 287 buses carrying Chinese tourists [around Taiwan] on a daily basis,” Chen said.
Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) disagreed with the association, saying the nation had enough qualified tour bus drivers to meet passenger demand.