The plea came at an emergency meeting of officials called by Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong yesterday in the aftermath of the tragic accident on Monday night that killed a 10-year-old Chinese tourist boy and his father. (See story here.)
It also followed another tour bus crash just two weeks ago, when a bus killed a 40-year-old woman riding a motorcycle in the small street that all runaway tour bus drivers use to avoid slamming into the giant concrete wall installed at the bottom of the hill. (See story here.)
The marathon meeting yesterday, held at Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO), was conducted in two sessions, starting in the morning and reconvening in the afternoon.
Present among the officials were Phuket Highways Chief Papiwetwoottisak Sookkii and PLTO Chief Banyat Kantha, along with representatives from local tour companies.
“Every official at the meeting knows the main reason for these accidents is the driver and the mechanical condition of the bus, but most importantly is that the drivers do not know the road well and do not know how to drive the buses safely over Patong Hill,” Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup told The Phuket News.
Regardless, Mayor Chalermluck believes it is more important to make the road itself safer in order to reduce the number and severity of accidents at the bottom of the hill.
“I presented this option to the Governor. I want the Phuket Highways Chief to revise the bend and improve the road on Patong Hill. This will help drivers’ visibility and reduce the gradient at the bottom of the hill. This is the faster plan,” she said.
Governor Norraphat ordered Phuket Provincial Chief Administrative Officer (Palad) Thawornwat Kongkaew to form and head a committee assigned to tackle the problem.
“The PLTO must present its data on the number, frequency and severity of accidents on Patong Hill at the next meeting, next week,” Mayor Chalermluck told The Phuket News.
After yet another tour-bus accident last year, local residents appealed for Patong Municipality to barricade the entrance to the street to prevent runaway tour buses wiping out the fronts of their homes and killing residents. (See story here.)
To this, Mayor Chalermluck responded yesterday, “I don’t think this is a good plan. Even if we installed an a special wall to absorb the impact energy, I believe this will do more harm than good.”
Before the meeting started yesterday Governor Norraphat told the press that he would push to expedite the construction of the Patong Tunnel through the hills, a concept first floated some 20 years ago and now lost for more than 10 years in the halls of bureaucracy.
“The long-term solution for Patong Hill is the Patong Tunnel. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is finished. The extra budget for the construction project is available. I will urge this project to start fast as I can. That will definitely solve the accident problem.”
However, Mayor Chalermluck, who herself hails from a local Patong family, discounted the notion of the decades-in-coming Patong Tunnel through the hills of having any positive impact soon.
“I have no hope the tunnel will come anytime soon. I won’t wait for it. Phuket will have come up with other options to solve this problem,” she said.
Meanwhile, Patong Police Chief Col Tassanai Orarigadech, who arrived on the island only weeks ago, called for bus operators to share responsibility for such accidents.
“The bus in this accident is from Phang Nga province. The bus is old, and was rented out for only B24,000 per month – that is cheap. This is almost certainly why the brakes failed,” Col Tassanai told The Phuket News.
“I am deeply saddened for those who lost family members during their travel in Phuket. They did not deserve this. Police have restricted the hours during which large buses can travel over the hill, but it is hasn’t helped. Theses accidents happen so many times outside of these hours,” he said.
“I have presented to the Phuket Governor to introduce new regulations to control buses from other provinces through the PLTO,” Col Tassanai explained.
“First, bus operators must specify the age of the bus’ engine to the PLTO,” he said.
“Second, police must be charge the owner of the bus, not just the driver. If the owners are forced to share responsibility for such accidents, they will make sure their buses are good enough to drive in Phuket,” Col Tassanai assured.
PLTO Chief Banyat Kantha, however, wants to focus on driver training.
“The main reason for these accidents is lack of experience among the drivers,” Chief Banyat told The Phuket News.
“So I have drafted a plan to create a course for bus drivers with the training provided by experienced drivers from the Andaman Tour Bus Association (ATBA),” he said.
“Regardless, all ideas will be presented at the meeting next week,” he added.