Public outrage, understandably, greeted the news that a school bus full of children had caught fire while in motion. Nobody was hurt, but the fire could not be dismissed as a one-off because this was the third such incident in the space of a couple of years, the most recent a month ago.
In addition to these, there were also two incidents of wheels coming off, one on a bus taking students on an excursion. The government and the state services came under attack for what happened and, responding to the angry reaction, the transport ministry decided to take 570 buses out of service on Monday and order an investigation.
There was also a dispute between Transport Minister Alexis Vafeades and the bus companies as to whether buses should have an automatic fire extinguishing system in their engines. The minister insisted that this was a provision in the contract between the bus companies and the state, but the companies claimed it did not exist.
This was clarified by the head of the Limassol bus company (Emel) Giorgos Kyriakou, who told CyBC radio on Tuesday that only buses for public school children were contractually obliged to have the automatic fire extinguishing system in the engine. He said this was not a requirement in many EU countries, which could well be the case. Perhaps the problem is with the make of bus, considering the two fires occurred in a specific make.
Parents are right to protest and express concern for the safety of their children, but the government decision to take more than 500 buses out of service, affecting some 6,000 students seemed very drastic indeed. It was as if it had zero confidence in the condition of the buses carrying students to schools. The implication was that it did not trust the inspections being carried out by the state services or the garages issuing MOTs.
In fairness, things are not as bad as portrayed. There are more than 1,000 buses operating in Cyprus and bus travel is quite rightly regarded as a safe form of transport. There have been no fatal crashes involving a bus in years, so the standard of the buses cannot be as bad as the critics of the government claim.
Nobody objects to calls for more rigorous and more frequent inspections of buses by the authorities, but immobilising more than 500 was a knee-jerk reaction, that will achieve nothing other than inconveniencing families that rely on the school buses. The idea of re-introducing distance learning for students, who cannot get to school without using a bus, was another example of this over-the-top reaction.