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500 buses back on roads after transport chaos (updated)

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Commuter buses from CPT ran as normal

Around 500 of the 570 buses which were taken off the road on Monday are now back in service, Transport Minister Alexis Vafeades said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the education ministry said the total number of school pupils impacted by the shortage of buses on Tuesday was 3,000, or around eight per cent of total school pupils on the island. This is around half of the figure seen on Monday.

Vafeades spoke to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) about the planned installation of automatic fire extinguishing systems on buses and said the systems will be installed on all the buses which were initially taken off the road.

He added that a “three-member committee of experts” has been established to evaluate the various available systems which have been submitted to the government for potential use.

A total of 29 buses have had such systems installed and are awaiting approval, while 70 buses remain off the roads.

This has negatively impacted mountainous communities, he said.

“There are students in mountainous areas who have not been served, even though we had given instructions to give those students priority,” he said.

Earlier, Education Minister Athena Michaelidou, speaking to CyBC radio, said student safety was of top priority and worth the temporary inconvenience resulting from the buses being pulled.

Schools and commuters descended into chaos on Monday, after more than 500 buses were taken out of service amid safety fears with parents and workers complaining of the inadequate warning which left many unable to make alternate arrangements.

Around 6,000 students were affected with hundreds turning up late or missing school, while in Paphos no buses at all were in operation.

Michaelidou said the ministry was awaiting data collection over the next two days to determine how to best aid parents struggling to get their children to school, however, she brushed aside suggestions that some would have to resort to online learning.

Head of the association of secondary parents Loizos Constantinou said he expected the upgraded systems to be received for all affected buses within the week.

A lack of confidence nonetheless lingers over the safety record and practices of the public bus companies in general, with Constantinou noting that regular maintenance checks must be in place and overseen.

“Some people need to do their jobs correctly and if they don’t there should be consequences,” he said.

Vafeades on Monday said the state of affairs regarding bus safety “did not inspire confidence” and promised closer checks on bus companies and an investigation to determine where exactly the weaknesses lay.

However, fleet director for Emel, the Limassol public bus company Michalis Markou said that the drumming up of fear around bus safety was unnecessary and unfounded.

“It is not fair to make it sound as though all buses are death traps,” the director said, noting that no engine fire incidents had occurred in 15 years of service on Emel buses, a fact that was not due to luck but the result of proper maintenance.

The faulty buses concern a specific brand and are vehicles subcontracted by companies solely to serve school populations, it was clarified.

“We were asked to install the anti-fire-engine systems and we have no problem doing so, as we have already done this in [over 200] buses,” Markou added.

The cost of installation per vehicle is around €2,000.

Asked about the delay in installation, which the ministry had requested in October, the Emel spokesman said it was not due to any reluctance on the part of the companies but due to the fact that a proper assessment needed time to ensure that each bus was outfitted correctly.

The director was at pains to point out that retrofitting of buses for safety features is not common practice in Cyprus or abroad, and that this was a first.

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