Wheels coming off Taiwan's tour bus industry

Updated 2017-04-12 17:00:53 Xinhua

Flowers across Taiwan were in full bloom as temperatures soared the past week, but for the local tour bus industry, nothing of spring can be seen.

The island's tour bus industry has been in a tight spot following a string of fatal accidents and a sharp drop in mainland tourists.

Nearly one-third of the 17,300 tourist buses in Taiwan are currently unused, with no customers to carry.

"There were about 4,000 buses to serve mainland tourists in May last year, but the number was slashed to just 500 after a standoff on cross-Strait ties," Ru Hsiao-ya, chairman of Taiwan's tourist bus association told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

"Taiwan's local tourism market has also been shrinking amid a sluggish economy. Now, about 4,500 tour buses have been pulled off the road, with over 3,000 put up for sale at a loss," he said.

Companies are desperately searching for a way out.

In September last year, around 15,000 people in Taiwan took to the streets in downtown Taipei after the number of mainland group visitors plummeted over 50 percent in August, the third month since Taiwan's new leader Tsai Ing-wen assumed office last May. Tsai has refused to adhere to the 1992 Consensus, angering people on both sides of the strait.

The number of mainland tourists fell 50 percent in the first quarter of 2017, compared with last year.

The island had rolled out incentives to draw visitors from Southeast Asian countries, but the gap left by the mainland has been almost impossible to fill.

Taiwan has also found it difficult to find tourists from other regions willing to spend as much as those across the strait.

"The average monthly income of Taiwan's tour bus drivers has more than halved to less than 30,000 new Taiwan dollars (about 980 U.S. dollars)," Ru said. "It is hard for them to survive."

While the fall in mainland tourists was due largely to a political change in cross-Strait relations, Ru said it was much more than that.

"Frequent accidents highlighted poor tour bus management in Taiwan, and too much shopping incorporated into mainland tour group trips has defamed Taiwan's tourism reputation," he added.

In February, a tour bus carrying 44 people overturned on a highway in Taipei, resulting in 33 fatalities. The driver, who died in the accident, was found to have been working 28 days every month.

The accident triggered fierce discussion about overworked long-haul bus drivers on the island and vicious competition in the industry. Taiwan's transport authority was pushed to announce plans to impose strict limits on the hours tour bus drivers are legally allowed to work.

To ensure better services, Ru said that authorities must take positive action against regulatory loopholes to improve the quality and safety of the industry.

"Vehicles should be phased-out on a regular basis and a regulating mechanism should be set up to supervise their operation," Ru said. "For example, by equipping buses with GPS misbehavior such as overspeeding can trigger an alarm system and police will be informed immediately."

"I hope misconduct in Taiwan's tour bus management can be curbed, cross-Strait ties can break the deadlock and more tourists from the mainland can enjoy high-quality travel services in Taiwan in the future," he said.

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