Thousands left stranded as 500 buses suspended

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More than 500 buses have been taken out of service and will remain off the roads due to safety concerns for two weeks, leaving over 6,000 students without school transport as of Monday.

The government decided to suspend the vehicles after a fire on board a school bus near Nicosia on Friday raised serious concerns, while the entire Paphos district was left without any buses.

In response to a decree from the Transport Ministry, numerous public and school buses deemed unsafe were taken out of circulation on Monday, resulting in disruptions to various routes, particularly in the Paphos district.

The ministry’s decision to withdraw buses lacking automated fire extinguishing equipment in the engine compartment was explained by Transport Minister Alexis Vafeades on Monday morning.

“Unfortunately, we could find no other solution but to remove buses that are not properly equipped in accordance with their contracts,” Vafeades said.

Speaking to Politis radio, Minister Vafeades confirmed that over 500 buses were taken out of circulation, emphasising the need to address safety issues.

He expressed concern, saying, “one incident in the past might have been considered an accident, but after the fourth one, it is clear that the safety environment is weak, and you can expect another incident.”

Despite awaiting the results of a probe on the causes of bus fires, the ministry chose not to wait for further incidents.

Fourth incident

The decision followed extensive weekend meetings, prompted by a Friday incident in Aglandjia where a school bus caught fire – the fourth such incident.

Vafeades explained that disagreements between bus companies and the state over the interpretation of contract terms led to a lack of updated safety equipment.

Despite the disagreement, the suspension of bus operations was deemed necessary to ensure student safety.

The ministry insisted that all buses be upgraded with the automated fire extinguishing system, citing EU regulations.

European safety regulations, effective from September 1, 2019, were not applicable when the buses in question were registered.

The suspended buses included those subcontracted by companies to carry primary and secondary public school students.

In Limassol, all buses of the local operator EMEL, with over 22 seats, were suspended until equipped with automatic engine-fire extinguishing systems.

Inspections by the ministry are planned to evaluate premises certifying vehicle suitability for circulation, identifying weaknesses.

No buses in Paphos

The ministry’s decree led to the suspension of all school buses in Paphos, affecting all routes due to the lack of minibuses.

However, the Cyprus Public Transport (CPT), operating in Nicosia and Larnaca, clarified that its entire fleet met the latest safety standards, exempting its routes from the ministry’s directive.

Nonetheless, sub-contracted buses, primarily school buses, were removed from circulation due to non-compliance with safety standards.

On Friday morning, a fire erupted in a school bus while it was in motion at the Filoxenia roundabout on Aglandjia Avenue.

The bus, carrying 40 students, was safely evacuated after a vigilant motorist trailing behind noticed smoke emanating from the vehicle’s rear and notified the driver to stop.

The fire department confirmed that the fire originated in the engine compartment and spread internally.

Investigations into the causes of the fire are underway by the police and the state electromechanical services. Minister Vafeades indicated that competent state agencies would conduct a follow-up investigation on-site after receiving the police findings.