Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) yesterday vowed to launch reforms of the tour bus industry following Tuesday’s fire that killed 24 Chinese tourists and two Taiwanese — the bus driver and tour guide.
They died after their bus caught fire on National Freeway No. 2 en route to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The group was headed home after an eight-day tour around Taiwan arranged by Kaohsiung-based Chu Long Travel Service Co (鉅龍旅行社).
“The tour bus industry in Taiwan needs reforms. We have to let tourists around the world know that it is safe to travel in Taiwan and should not let the incident damage the morale of the travel industry and become a disgrace,” Hochen said, adding that he hoped the incident would not dampen Chinese travelers’ interest in visiting Taiwan.
Photo: Wang Yi-sung, Taipei Times
The Directorate-General of Highways (DGH) said that it would work with the Vehicle Safety Certification Center (VSCC) on a random inspection of tour buses.
It said that 25 percent of the tour buses would be selected for inspection and to see if they match their registered specifications.
The VSCC will begin a three-month review of the rules governing the certification of tour buses and percentages of the tour buses to be inspected, the DHG said.
Photo: Chou Min-hung, Taipei Times
The agency said it would propose regulations that would require companies to provide maintenance records of their large passenger buses during their annual inspections.
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications is considering the possibility of implementing policies that would enhance the safety of large passenger vehicles earlier than previously scheduled, such as the installation of anti-lock braking systems, officials said.
In addition, tour bus operators will have to install global positioning system (GPS) in their buses to track the vehicles, and a list of tour bus companies with GPS and other safety-enhancing measures would be publicized online.
There has been a great deal of criticism aimed at the safety records of “integrated travel service providers,” since both Chu Long and the bus company are registered under the name of the owner, Po Wen-fu (薄文甫), Hochen said.
Such criticism is only the stereotyping, and an “intergrated travel service provider” might be safer since the tour agency would know the condition of the buses it uses, the minister said.
In related news, the Civil Aeronautics Administration said it had approved an application from China Southern Airlines (中國南方航空) to operate a charter flight that would bring relatives of the dead Chinese tourists from Dalian to Taiwan.
Based on the flight information submitted by the airline, the charter flight is scheduled to take off today from Dalian at 1:15pm and arrive at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. at 4:10pm.
Travel Agent Association deputy chairman Hsiao Bo-jen (蕭博仁) said that the relatives of the victims have all been informed about the deaths, and were told that two immediate family members would be able to travel to Taiwan to help identify the bodies.
Hsiao said he believes the incident would not affect cross-strait tourism, adding that no massive cancelation of tours to Taiwan was reported in China.
The families of each victim would receive a total of NT$5.5 million (US$171,602) in compensation through the insurance policies purchased by the tour bus company and Kaohsiung travel agency, Hsiao said.
That amount does not include what they would receive from the Chinese travel agency that organized the tour, he said.
A memorial service has been scheduled for the bus fire victims on Sunday.
In other developments, investigators said that they have not ruled out the possibility that an electrical short circuit sparked the bus fire.
The Central News Agency reported that experts said a fuse box at the front of the bus had melted, pointing to the possibility of a power overload leading to an electrical short circuit.
They said they had focused in on the front area of the bus as a possible starting point for the fire, checking the driver’s door and several electrical appliances such as a water dispenser, a small refrigerator underneath the aisle and the main fuse box behind the driver’s seat.
They said serious carbonization was found on one of the fuses.
Officials are also looking into a concealed lock on the left side of the bus’ emergency exit door.
Several of the victims’ bodies were found stacked at the escape routes at the back of the bus.
The bus crashed into the guardrail on the outer lane of the freeway and there has been speculation that the railing prevented the emergency exits from being opened.
An autopsy was conducted yesterday on the body of bus driver Su Wen-cheng (蘇文成) and the pathologist said initial findings were that Su had been overcome by carbon monoxide, lost consciousness and then burned to death.
A preexisting physical or mental condition was ruled out as the cause of death, but the pathologist said the exact cause had not yet been determined.
Additional reporting by staff writer and CNA
This story has been updated since it was first published.
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