Vans given Tuesday deadline to remove excess seats

A soldier inspects a passenger van in Bangkok to ensure it is equipped with sufficient seat belts and other safety equipment. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Operators of more than 15,000 passenger vans on fixed routes have been given until Tuesday to remove excess seats to meet a 13-seat limit, or face instant fines of 500 baht.

The Department of Land Transport on Saturday announced the deadline as part of a campaign to reduce road accidents during the Songkran holiday, the most dangerous time of the year on the country’s roads.

Department chief Sanit Phromwong said the maximum-seat rule, announced in the Royal Gazette, took effect on March 31. Aimed at improving the safety of passengers travelling in public vans, it was proclaimed under the sweeping powers of Section 44 by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the prime minister and head of the National Council for Peace and Order.

Currently, many vans manage to squeeze in 15 passengers and some have been known to have as many as 18 seats.

As of March 20, a total of 42,806 passenger vans were registered with the department, said Mr Sanit. The total included 15,808 vans operating on fixed routes in Bangkok (9,843) and surrounding provinces (5,965 vehicles), 25,877 vans operating on non-fixed routes in Bangkok and surrounding provinces (5,581) and in other provinces (20,296), and 1,121 vans owned by individuals in Bangkok and surrounding provinces (294) and other provinces (827).

In the initial phase of enforcement, all 15,808 fixed-route vans must meet the 13-seat rule before the Songkran holiday starts.

Earlier, passenger van operators had threatened to stop their services if the government did not relax new rules aimed at improving public safety. They complained they could not shoulder the higher costs required to modify their vehicles. They wanted the government to allow them to offer a maximum of 15 seats.

The department’s order to enforce seat limits is also in line with the Transport Ministry’s policy of “zero deaths’’ on public transport, said Mr Sanit.

Van operators who fail to comply with all of the safety rules will face fines of 5,000 baht and suspension of their operating licences, he said.

However, before stricter enforcement begins, the immediate focus will be on enforcing the 13-seat limit, with on-the-spot fines of 500 baht for violators starting this coming week.

By June, all passenger van operators will be required to show that they have had their vehicles inspected for safety, Mr Sanit added.

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