• Kyodo

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The Upper House passed a revision to the road transportation law on Friday that allows the fine for safety violations involving chartered buses to be hiked 100-fold to ¥100 million ($875,000).

The revision follows a ski bus accident in Nagano Prefecture earlier this year that killed 13 passengers. With the new ski season under way, the government hopes to put the revision into effect by year’s end.

The revision will mandate the establishment of a private entity to monitor and provide instructions on safety practices to companies that operate chartered buses. The entity is to be financed by the operators and report its findings to the government.

It will also require bus companies to renew their business licenses every five years, instead of not at all.

With the revision, the government aims to screen operators on their planned safety investments and earnings prospects, and exclude those deemed unsuitable to operate.

Previously, chartered bus operators were fined up to ¥1 million if they failed to ensure safety because many are small and midsize companies. The legal change, however, raises the maximum amount to the same level applied to railroads and airlines.

The 100-fold increase for the chartered bus industry reflects calls for stricter penalties from the family members of the victims.

On a personal level, the revision also increases fines for managers and those in charge of bus operations who are found to be involved in safety violations. These people could face fines of up to ¥1.5 million, up 50 percent from the current maximum, and up to 12 months in prison if convicted.

The House of Councilors passed the revised bill on Friday after the House of Representatives did so last month.

In a separate move on Thursday, the transport ministry strengthened administrative punishments for bus operators found violating safety regulations.

The ministry will order an operator to halt bus services for 30 days if it fails to provide any driving instructions or health checkups to its drivers. The ministry will then revoke its business license if it fails to improve its practices.

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