Bus firm in crash had driver go too far

JIJI

Inzai, Chiba Prefecture-based bus firm Rikuentai, one of whose vehicles crashed into a wall in Gunma Prefecture on April 29, killing seven passengers, had required the driver of that trip to run beyond his daily allowable range alone and had added 37 more seats on eight buses, exceeding their design specifications, transport ministry officials said.

The ministry said the ill-fated bus was scheduled to travel between 796 km and 837 km on the day of the crash, exceeding the maximum 670 km a single driver can travel in a day.

The revelations come as credit research firm Teikoku Databank Ltd. said Wednesday that more than 80 percent of the nation’s charter bus operators lost money in the 2011 business year, and that Rikuentai logged a net profit of only ¥2 million, on sales of ¥140 million in the year that ended in January.

Of 1,282 companies surveyed, only 206, or 16.1 percent, were profitable. The Teikoku poll was carried out in light of the fatal bus accident in Gunma Prefecture.

Of 969 bus companies whose sales data were available, 852, or nearly 90 percent, were small businesses that generated less than ¥500 million a year.

On average, annual revenue per company was ¥281.3 million, or about 20 percent below the average in 1999 — the year before Japan deregulated the charter bus industry by shifting from a licensing system to a registration system.

The results show that many bus companies are struggling to survive the surge in competition triggered by the move, which made it easier to establish such companies, Teikoku Databank officials said.

A transport ministry audit of Rikuentai recently also learned the driver involved was being used on a day-by-day basis in violation of the road transport law. The firm also committed other operational breaches, including failing to instruct drivers on routes and scheduled stops.

Given the accident, the ministry is urging the industry to ensure that long-distance, nighttime buses are manned by two drivers.