The Taipei Association of Travel Agents yesterday urged the government to cancel regulations requiring tour bus operators to change drivers during seven-day tours for Chinese tourists.
“The government is still amending work-hour regulations in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) and changing the job categories in which the flexible work-hour rules apply,” association chairman Benny Wu (吳志建) told a news conference.
“Taiwan is now welcoming more than 10 million international tourists per year, and the tourism industry should be allowed to utilize flexible hours. We ask the Tourism Bureau to revisit the regulations and cancel them” before the amendment to Act is finalized, he said.
Photo: Hsiao Yu-hsin, Taipei Times
The Tourism Bureau on Wednesday last week announced new amendments to tourism regulations to ensure the quality of tours for Chinese tourists, which are scheduled to take effect on Friday next week.
The bureau’s changes require travel agencies handling Chinese tour groups to switch bus drivers during seven or eight-day tours to abide by the work-hour regulations mandated by the Labor Standards Act.
Agency costs would rise and consumers would see their tour costs increase as well if the bureau’s rules are implemented, Wu said.
The proposed changes are not feasible for several reasons, Wu said.
“Our information shows that the tour bus companies in Taipei and New Taipei City have more buses than drivers. On average, each company is about two or three drivers short. The two cities lack about 1,000 tour bus drivers in total,” he said, adding that the association has also estimated that the nation is short of 5,000 tour bus drivers.
The shortage of drivers has worsened following the decline in the number of Chinese tour groups visiting Taiwan, he said.
Bus drivers used to be able to earn a decent living if they drove for about three tour groups per month, but to make up for lost income caused by the drop in Chinese tourist numbers, about 1,000 tour bus drivers have switched to driving taxis or public buses, he said.
The association has tried to communicate with the bureau, only to be told that the driver who picks up a tour group at the airport does not have to be the same one who drives the group on the tour or return it to the airport when at the end of their trip, Wu said.
That idea is impractical because most Chinese tour groups visit for eight-day tours, he said.
“After a driver picks up tourists arriving on early-morning flights, they drive straight to scenic attractions in central Taiwan [to start the tour]. Tourists arriving on evening flights normally spend the night at hotels near the airport... How are we going to change drivers?” he said.
The government should strictly enforce the work hour limits for tour bus drivers, since safety must be the No. 1 priority, but it should use technology instead of requiring a change in drivers to ensure tour operators follow the rules, Wu said.
Devices such as anti-drowsiness alert systems are used in other nations, he said.
Scenic areas should provide rest centers for tour bus drivers, while cities and towns should have parking lots that can accommodate large buses, as such facilities would greatly reduce the time drivers spend looking for parking spaces, thereby giving them more rest time, he said.
Wu also asked the bureau to detail supervisory requirements.
“If drivers who are supposed to come and replace the ones nearing the end of their work-hour limit call in sick or do not show due to an emergency, we have little time to report the problem to the Tourism Bureau. Whose responsibility should it be? Tour bus companies or travel agencies?” he asked.
Wu said the association would wait for the bureau to respond to its complaints before deciding what to do about the new work rules.
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