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21 May, 2024
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School bus safety: 32 Complaints only this year

Should teachers serve as ''MOT'' inspectors?

Pavlos Neophytos

The House Transport Committee scrutinized the safety of buses, particularly those transporting students and citizens, during its session on Thursday, May 25. The focus of the discussion stemmed from a recent incident involving a school bus carrying students on a field trip, where the wheels unexpectedly detached while the bus was in motion, putting the passengers in jeopardy. Concerned by this incident, the Committee summoned representatives from the Ministry of Transport to Parliament in order to gain further clarification on the matter. Acting President and AKEL MP Kostas Kostas emphasized the shared concern among the Committee members, stating in his opening statement that, "up until now, we have been fortunate enough to avoid any casualties by sheer luck. However, considering the occurrences of bus fires and instances of wheels detaching in recent years, we must acknowledge that our luck might not hold in the future."

During the meeting, a significant revelation was made by Loizos Konstantinos, the president of the Confederation of Secondary Education Parents' Associations. He shared that, in the current school year alone, they had received 32 complaints from School Parents' Associations regarding issues encountered on bus routes. Additionally, a legal loophole regarding the responsibility of bus drivers to conduct visual inspections before and after each journey was brought to light. This practice is common in other countries. In response to a question posed by the issue's rapporteur, Prodromos Alabritis, to the representatives of the Ministry of Transport, it was queried whether there exists a directive requiring bus drivers to complete a special form after conducting internal and external visual checks on the bus both before and after a journey. Alabritis had discovered that such a practice is followed abroad and suggested that if the visual check had been performed in the recent incident involving the wheels, it could have been prevented. In reply, Yiannis Nicolaides, the director of the Road Transport Department, stated, "We are aware that the larger bus companies, those that have taken on contracts, do perform these checks. However, smaller companies with only two or three buses are not obligated to do so. Although the Road Transport Department has recently sent a letter to all bus operators requesting these checks, they are not legally obligated," he explained.

"up until now, we have been fortunate enough to avoid any casualties by sheer luck. However,...we must acknowledge that our luck might not hold in the future."

Road Transport Department: The responsibility primarily lies with the drivers

According to the director of the Road Transport Department, the legal framework for bus inspections is in a very good state, emphasizing that the primary obligation for someone to have a suitable and safe vehicle rests with the bus owner. Referring to the additional measures announced by the Ministry of Transport following the bus wheel incident, he stated that random checks are being carried out by the Department and will continue to be conducted now in light of the incident. Roadside checks (mobile MOT) will also be conducted on buses while they are on their routes. However, Mr. Nicolaides implied that even if the Ministry increases road checks and sampling, no one can guarantee that there will not be another incident, as the human factor exists. This includes bus owners who do not comply with regulations or unauthorized technicians interfering with the bus, as revealed by the Ministry's investigation into the recent incident.

Old buses due to lack of tachographs - Intercity buses and Paphos buses are pending

Regarding the old buses, the director of the Road Transport Department provided the following information:

- After the signing of contracts, the city bus fleet was renewed two years ago in the provinces of Nicosia, Larnaca, and Famagusta.

- Limassol has received its new fleet, and it will soon be integrated into the routes. The delay stems from the fact that the smart tachographs have yet to be delivered.

- Paphos still has buses that are 10-15 years old because the contract was signed only a few months ago.

- The delivery of new intercity buses is pending. The existing ones are 10-15 years old.

- There is an improvement in the tourist buses that transport students under subcontracting.

Teachers on 'MOT' duties?

One issue that has emerged is the involvement of teachers as supervisors responsible for ensuring the suitability of a bus and the qualifications of the driver, typically for field trips. Surprisingly, as a spokesperson from the Department of Education revealed, there is already a circular in collaboration with the Department of Transport, which has been sent to schools. This circular aims to empower teachers to conduct a visual inspection of the bus and verify the driver's documentation. It was mentioned that there have been instances where teachers identified issues and subsequently canceled planned excursions. However, the representatives of the teachers' unions (OLTEK and PDED), who were present, objected to this specific responsibility, emphasizing that they lack the necessary qualifications for such inspections. In fact, the OLTEK representative requested the Ministry to retract the circular. The Ministry representative clarified that this inspection is not a formal requirement but is rather limited to a circular, acknowledging that teachers cannot be expected to possess the required expertise.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]


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