Thu, Apr 14, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Groups mull school bus regulations

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Legislators, children’s rights advocates and government officials have yet to reach a consensus over whether the government should cancel restrictions on the use of school buses, with some saying that an amendment to the Highway Act (公路法) was designed to benefit bus operators.

The amendment was proposed after the Ministry of Education placed restrictions on vehicles used to carry kindergarten and elementary-school students, requiring buses to have been in operation for less than 10 years or be replaced with new ones.

The regulations have created problems for many kindergarten operators, whose businesses have already suffered because of the nation’s declining birth rate, making them unwilling to pay more for expensive buses imported from overseas because of the 10-year rule.

Buses produced in Taiwan fail to meet the nation’s emission standards.

A proposed amendment to Article 63 of the Highway Act brought by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators on the legislature’s Transportation Committee secured preliminary approval.

However, due to the controversies surrounding the bill, lawmakers agreed in the plenary session on Friday last week to wait on further negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties.

DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said the ministry only regulates school buses according to the vehicles’ age.

She said the ministry does not take into account the vehicles’ body structure, durability and safety index, adding that this policy forces kindergarten and elementary schools to replace the buses that might have a service life of more than 10 years.

This would make the education providers less willing to spend extra money buying durable and solid buses, prefering to turn to cheaper, less-durable vehicles instead, creating a less safe transport option for students, Yeh said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) said the act affects the safety of hundreds of thousands of children.

Ko said the age of a vehicle is the most fundamental requirement for buses used to carry children, adding however that the age factor is not the best way to manage school buses or the only criterion to gauge the safety of a vehicle.

The government should not take the matter lightly, as buses carry children who are unable to react quickly to emergency situations most of the time, Ko said.

Jing Chuan Child Safety Foundation executive director Lin Yue-chin (林月琴) accused lawmakers of proposing the amendment to curry favor from bus operators, adding that lawmakers should consider the consequences of using unsafe buses.

The ministry said it needs to ascertain whether the Highway Act is applicable in the regulation of school buses, as it also stipulates an age limit for buses with authorization from the Protection of Children and Youth Welfare and Rights Act (兒童及少年福利與權益保障法).

The ministry said it had consulted legal experts, who said that setting an age limit for school buses is necessary, as the passengers are preschool or school-aged children.

However, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said that one cannot equate the age of a vehicle with its safety.

It said schools could choose the best bus company to work with based on multiple factors if the government lifts the restrictions on the use of the motor vehicles based on their age.

The factors could include the records of the bus company’s drivers, its buses used to carry children and its management of operations, it said.

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