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Peru’s ‘death buses’: The road to Russian roulette

The notorious ”death buses” taking Peruvians and tourists up the Andean nation’s snaky mountain roads have killed 68 people in road accidents so far this year.

Travelling in Peru, whose Inca ruins attract tourists from around the world, has become the road version of Russian roulette as many buses are built out of old truck chassis.

Under then-president Alberto Fujimori, who ruled from 1990 to 2000, the bus service was liberalised and vehicle controls were abolished. This led to a drop in ticket prices, but to the detriment of quality and security.

A normal bus costs up to $300 000, but a ”death bus”, made out of a used-truck frame, is worth $30 000 in a country where 95% of transportation is road-based.

The mountain country’s tight roads are not suitable for normal buses, a problem that led two bus makers to create an ”Andean chassis” that they believe is more stable, according to an auto-industry expert.

The number of truck-based buses is unclear. Unions say 4 000 roam Peruvian roads, while the Transport Ministry says they are in the hundreds.

”A used truck is bought in the south of the country, it is cut in the centre and the chassis is extended by welding,” said Joaquin Ormeno, director of a large transportation company.

In many mountain accidents, often 5 000m at altitude, the cabin crumbles and windows shatter into sharp pieces of glass.

”In a truck-bus, the structure is metal or wood and the windows are like those in homes,” said Ormeno, who owns 320 normal buses.

”If we want to save lives we have to recreate a control system,” he said. ”Few people complain because those who travel are often poor.”

Between January 2004 and March 2006, truck-based buses are blamed for at least 52 accidents that left 215 people dead and thousands injured, according to police.

The 68 deaths this year are also attributed to the truck-based buses.

The death toll has led to a government ban on these buses, but while officials say only 500 truck-based buses remain on the road, bus-owner unions say up to 4 000 are still circulating. Owners have lobbied lawmakers to reverse the ban.

Peru’s treacherous roads and poorly maintained cars left nearly 3 500 people dead and 81 000 injured in accidents in 2005, a 40% increase over the previous year, according to the Insurance Industry Association. — AFP

 

AFP

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