Tour bus industry inks voluntary safety rules

Night drive limit, codriver rule set in response to Gunma crash

JIJI

The tour bus industry has set a voluntary 450-km limit on night driving by unaccompanied drivers to prevent accidents, industry officials said.

A group of bus operators and travel agencies informed transport minister Takeshi Maeda of its new voluntary rules, including the distance limit, on Wednesday.

The move follows the fatal expressway crash in Gunma Prefecture last month that killed seven people when the driver nodded off and let the vehicle veer edge-on into a sound-suppression wall that nearly cut it in half.

Maeda asked the group to improve the industry’s safety measures to restore public trust.

The new voluntary rules require bus operators to allocate two drivers per vehicle if it is scheduled to travel a distance exceeding 450 km during overnight.

The rules also call on travel agencies to check on bus operators’ legal compliance and safety measures in written documents, and to inform passengers about the number of drivers who will be on board, the planned distance for each trip and whether the tour is covered by insurance.

The industry group will conduct snap inspections on its members to ensure they are complying with the voluntary rules, and also ask them to report how they intend to respond to them both to the group and on their websites.

Members not in compliance won’t be allowed to sell bus tours.

Buses to replace trains

SENDAI — East Japan Railway Co. and municipalities in Miyagi Prefecture will temporarily offer rapid transit buses to replace train service suspended by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, officials said.

A proposal by JR East to pave existing rail line rights of way for high-speed buses has been accepted by three municipalities with train stations on the Kesennuma Line, the officials said.

The unprecedented plan will be cheaper and faster than rebuilding the tsunami-ripped railway. JR East will launch the buses later this year and hopes to have all suspended parts of the Kesennuma Line linked by the end of 2013.

The suspended parts span about 55 km between Yanaizu and Kesennuma stations. The rapid transit buses will use exclusive roads to cover 60 percent of that stretch and public roads for the rest. They will also take routes that access temporary housing and hospitals.

Although the rapid bus plan was floated by JR East last year, Kesennuma was reluctant to sign off on it because the railway hadn’t committed to rebuilding the tracks.

Train commuters have had to switch to ordinary bus lines in the suspended areas, but complaints about delays and relatively expensive fares have been rife.

Elsewhere, JR East has inked a memorandum of understanding with Miyagi and the town of Yamamoto over moving a suspended section of the Joban Line farther inland.

Under the deal, the local governments will negotiate purchases of new property for the line while buying up the land where it already exists for development into prefectural roads.