It was a wake-up call for the Czech traffic police: a Czech tourist bus in Austria was found to be driving minus one wheel. The story made headlines in both countries and the Czech authorities finally turned their attention to a nagging problem: the poor technical state of many Czech buses.
The bus which caused consternation in Austria was described as a ticking time bomb by Czech experts, photo: CTK
Three serious bus accidents since the start of the summer holidays have highlighted a serious problem – the sorry state of Czech tourist buses used not just in the Czech Republic but on international routes around Europe. The bus which caused consternation in Austria was described as a ticking time bomb by Czech experts. They say that if the second rear tire had burst the driver would have been unable to control the vehicle. The reason why Austrian police noticed it was that the driver had not even attempted to put the wheel on and maintained that as a technician he knew the bus was perfectly safe to drive. A thorough check up of the vehicle revealed 11 more technical defects relating to its breaks, lights and bearings, among others. The incident sparked an extensive road safety operation on Czech territory.
Over 100 check-ups between Friday evening and Sunday night primarily on the border with Slovakia and Austria revealed the gravity of the situation – a third of the buses checked –both Czech and foreign – had one or more technical problems. In one case a bus was not allowed to continue because of faulty brakes. Several were found to have bad tires. Two were found to have faulty fire extinguishers. Traffic police officer Bohumil Malásek says drivers often underestimate such deficiencies.
“It may sound like it’s not such a big deal – one faulty fire extinguisher – but in the event of a fire an extinguisher would be the most important thing on that bus.”
Both the Transport Ministry and the traffic police are aware of the biggest safety problem concerning Czech buses – a 2008 review of buses used by state and private companies showed that most buses on Czech roads are veterans. The vast majority of busses – over 11,000 of them are over 10 years old. Compared to that, only some 3,000 are between 2 and 5 years of age. Some of them should have been written off long ago, but in the summer months travel agencies offer business and bus suppliers are ready to send out anything on wheels when it comes to making extra profit. The spokesman for the Czech Association of Travel Agencies says money is at the centre of the problem.
“You know the most important aspect for Czech clients when it comes to package tours is the price and that I think is one of the main reasons behind the problem. Because we ourselves are under great pressure from clients regarding the price of tours we have to keep prices from suppliers as low as possible. So it is important to open a debate on this point –if clients were willing to pay more money we could arrange better and newer buses. Nevertheless, all the buses must of course adhere to safety regulations according to Czech law – whether they be old or new.”
The police crack-down on intercity and inter-state buses is expected to continue in the coming weeks and months and although overall check-ups leave many passengers on long-distance journeys extremely grumpy, Bohumil Malásek says the hour they consider wasted could save lives.
“So tomorrow they will read about the road safety operation in the papers and find out what it’s in aid of and they can count themselves lucky, because some holiday-makers never make it back home.”