Land transport authorities have revealed nearly half of double-decker buses have failed basic safety tests, as major transport operators are torn over a plan to ban the vehicles.
Caretaker Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt said yesterday many double-decker buses on the roads were unsafe and he wanted operators to order their drivers to take more precautions on dangerous routes.
“Of the buses subject to a slope test, about 45% did not pass,” Mr Chadchart said, citing ministry figures. It was not clear when the figures were compiled, or what happens to the buses which fail. “The vehicles can overturn if they negotiate a curve at high speed.”
A standard double-decker bus weighs about 18 tonnes and is 4.5 metres high. It can carry up to 50 passengers, while a single-decker bus weighs 15 tonnes, is about 3.8 four metres high and carries up to 40 passengers. The minister said it may be difficult to control a double-decker bus in an emergency situation given the added height and weight.
Mr Chadchart plans to limit the height of all passenger buses to four metres in the future. At present, there are about 6,200 double-decker buses registered nationwide. Of them, about 1,700 are scheduled buses while the rest are charter vehicles.
The plan comes in the wake of an accident involving a double-decker bus which killed 29 people and injured 23 others in Tak on Monday.
Mr Chadchart also pointed to seven highways which he said are unsafe for double-decker buses to operate on. They are the Tak-Mae Sot, the Phitsanulok-Phetchabun, the Kabin Buri-Pak Thong Chai, the Ang Thong-Sing Buri-Chai Nat section of the Asian Highway, the Rangsit-Saraburi, the Krabi-Phangnga and the Chiang MaiMae Hong Son routes.
Thailand Development Research Institute researcher Sumet Ongkittikul said bus operators preferred double-decker buses because they can carry more passengers. But he said research has found they are not suitable for long-haul routes as the vehicles can become dangerously unstable driving up or down steep slopes.
He also pointed out that the UN Economic Commission for Europe introduced 150 safety criteria for operating the vehicles, but the Department of Land Transport implemented only four of them in regulating passenger buses.
Mr Sumet said operators apply to register about 800 double-decker buses annually, but about 20-30% fail safety tests. He added that a standard double-decker bus costs about 7-8 million baht, but most double-decker buses driven in Thailand are locally assembled and cost 3-4 million baht each.
Sujinda Cherdchai, president of the Thai Bus Operators Association and owner of Cherdchai Tour Co, opposes a ban on double-decker buses on danger-prone routes.
She said most bus operators, including her own company, had spent a lot of money to acquire the double-decker buses. A ban on the vehicles would be unfair to the companies, she said, adding that most accidents are the fault of drivers, not the vehicles.
Sathaporn Wongbenjarat, president of Nakhonchai Air, said his company avoided using double-deckers because tall buses handled poorly and were unsuitable for driving at high speeds.
First published: Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014