TUOI TRE - The ‘luxury’ sleeper buses of some transport firms may admit passengers doubling its registered number of seats while running on highways in Vietnam. However, the overcrowded vehicles fool traffic policemen and road inspectors year after year.
Contrary to its advertisement, which states that sleeper buses offer ‘five star service’ and ‘high quality,’ the reality of these vehicles is quite the opposite.
Except for some well-known companies such as Phuong Trang, Mai Linh and Kumho that transport passengers to and from all provinces in the country, transport firms often violate traffic laws with overcrowded vehicles.
Although Vietnamese authorities have managed to crack down on ‘xe dù’, which is the name for unregistered passenger vehicles, the overcrowded ‘luxury passenger coaches’ are by no means different from a ‘xe dù’ at all.
The cheating occurs publicly on highways and has fooled traffic policemen and road inspectors for years.
Passengers packed in like sardines
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper journalists boarded a sleeper vehicle, labeled as a ‘five star service,’ to experience this fact.
The two aisles between three rows of sleeper are installed with new beds that can be folded down to ram in more passengers.
On a vehicle marked TL, around 20 passengers were jammed in the two aisles. They even had no space to stretch their legs out.
The beds on the aisles were only removed when authorities came to make periodic checks. The beds are actually a piece of plywood, 40cm wide and covered with leather on the front side.
On June 17, the Tuoi Tre reporters saw a 42-seat bus install ten more seats along the aisles.
Although the air-conditioning system was operated on the bus, passengers were still sweating because of overcrowding.
Some passengers began shouting loudly in protest as the driver stopped and ran to add more people along the highway.
The Tuoi Tre reporters witnessed an overcrowded sleeper bus that even stopped on the Ho Chi Minh City – Trung Luong expressway to return passengers.
“The driver ignored the safety of the lives of passengers when they stopped on the expressway,” complained a passenger.
On June 13, the Tuoi Tre journalists got on a sleeper bus to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Ca Mau Province in the Mekong Delta. The bus operator wrote on the ticket that it departed at 7:00 am but the vehicle was delayed an hour and did not leave until 8:00 am.
It took the bus an hour to drive along the 20km section from Mien Dong (Eastern) Bus Station in Binh Thanh District to An Lac Roundabout in Binh Tan District because the driver stopped to receive passengers along the way.
Ten seats at the back of the overcrowded bus had no seat belt.
Some sleeper buses even placed cargo below the beds along the aisles.
Because the buses are on a stop-and-run drive to pick up passengers along highways, tardiness is common with these vehicles of less-known transport firms.
The Ministry of Transport has required provincial transport departments to enact a comprehensive checking campaign targeting sleeper buses in March, said Le Hong Viet, vice head of the inspection unit of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Transport.
Ho Chi Minh City authorities have conducted checks four times this year. Of the 414 sleeper buses inspected, 174 were fined VND258.3 million (US$12,400) for failing to meet standards, he added.
Transport firms have followed a trend to invest more in new sleeper buses because passengers prefer them to normal vehicles, according to Thuong Thanh Hai, vice director of Mien Dong (Eastern) Bus Station – one of the three major bus stations in the city, including Mien Tay (Western) Bus Station and Nga Tu Ga Bus Station.
Currently, the Mien Dong station has 1,244 sleeper buses with a total of 50,000 seats, but the number is increasing every day, Hai noted.
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