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Sleeper buses need best mechanic in country

By Chen Chenchen (Global Times)

08:49, August 27, 2012

A bus-tanker crash on the Baotou-Maoming highway in Northwest China on Sunday, which killed 36 when a double-decker sleeper bus caught fire, has once again raised public concerns over long-distance bus safety.

On July 22, 2011, 41 were killed when an overcrowded sleeper bus carrying hazardous goods was engulfed in flame. The State Council called for stricter management of passenger transport lines over 1,000 kilometers long as well as stricter supervision on nighttime driving. A nationwide campaign was launched, aiming at making long-distance buses safer.

Similar tragedies have happened frequently in the past few months. Long-distance buses, which developed rapidly in the 1990s to carry the swelling migration population, appear to be antiquated vehicles as rail and air transportation expand rapidly.

But in this vast, developing country, long-distance buses are still a priority choice for many. They are indispensable to provide point-to-point transportation in areas that are not covered by railway and air transport networks yet. Long-distance buses also have much shorter intervals. In many rural areas, passengers can flag these buses down almost anywhere.

The historical mission of long-distance bus transportation is long from being overdue yet in China. Take the national statistics from the last Spring Festival rush. During the 2012 Spring Festival golden week, 342 million trips were made by bus, 9.9 percent higher than last year, whereas 7.92 million and 31.30 million trips were made by ship and rail respectively.

This mirrors a real facet of China. The central government has suspended the production, sales and registration of new sleeper buses since March 1, until new technological standards for sleeper bus safety can be issued. But there is no way to cancel existing sleeper buses overnight.

China has seen its planes and trains become faster and more luxurious but the same benefits have not reached long-distance buses. Currently the public has a very stern attitude toward transportation safety.

Overcoming safety issues through pragmatic change is an obvious priority. Allocating more resources to security needs the determination of both the government and the public. For instance, it is economic interest that propels drivers to keep going when they are tired and to exceed their passenger capacity. These actions will not be rooted out only by more supervision and harsher fines.

China must be able to demonstrate its capability to handle safety risks, otherwise, all these tragedies would add up to huge question mark on the road of development we've taken.

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