Tour bus drivers protest to seek government support


TAIPEI, Taiwan — Tour bus drivers in New Taipei continued a protest Wednesday that started a day earlier around the Ministry of Transportation and Communications building in Taipei, appealing to the ministry to help alleviate the dire situation facing them.

The protest, organized by the New Taipei City Tour Bus Drivers’ Union, is aimed at prodding the ministry into facing squarely the closure of many travel agents and tour bus operators stemming from fewer Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, and devising a bailout plan to help them.

Union Chairman Lee Shih-chia (李式嘉) has staged a hunger strike for more than 24 hours and has asked Transportation and Communications Minister Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦) to hold talks with union members.

About 20 tour buses were mobilized to block roads around the ministry’s building Wednesday morning and others from central and southern Taiwan were scheduled to travel to Taipei to join the rally, according to the union.

The union’s proposals to the ministry include barring bus companies from sightseeing tour bus operations, reducing license fees and fuel taxes for tour bus operators, demanding that the government buy old tour buses from operators and listen to the voices of the tour bus operators when amending the Highway Act, and training tour bus drivers using government funds.

In related news, Kaohsiung-based Tien Chi Tour Bus Co. on Wednesday dismissed as groundless a media report saying that it has gone out of business due to financial problems.

The company’s president, Hsu Chiu-ping (許秋萍), said that a dwindling number of Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan and intense competition in the industry have indeed made the company’s operations difficult but it is still running as usual.

According to Hsu, 33 out of the 40 tour buses operated by the company still provide services, while the other seven have suspended operations because it has failed to make payments on loans for those buses.

Two years ago, the company had 120 tour buses to serve Chinese tourists, Hsu said, admitting that the company has seen its business take a beating.

Despite this, the company has not defaulted in its payment of employees, according to Hsu, who expressed hope that the government can come up with a bailout program.

Meanwhile, Kaohsiung Association of Travel Agents Chairman Wu Yin-liang (吳盈良) said that a sharp drop in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan has had a huge negative impact on the travel and tour bus industry, particularly in southern Taiwan.

He said that although Taiwan has seen more tourists from South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, most of those tourists visit northern Taiwan rather than the south. Therefore, he urged the government to particularly extend a helping hand to reduce the negative impact on the industry in the south.