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Do local aiga buses pass federal standards and are they legal to operate? These were among the many issues discussed yesterday during a special meeting that was held at the Fagatogo Marketplace conference room.


The meeting was called by the DPS Office of Highway Safety and the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) to inform commercial vehicle owners of both the federal and local standards and regulations already in place, and the need for compliance.


OHS program coordinator Fred Scanlan, MCSAP acting coordinator Asulu Faleafine Solo and Lt. Fau Maiava led the discussions which addressed critical issues like bus modifications, medical certificates for drivers, and liability insurance for asset haulers.


Over 20 people were in attendance, and only five of them were bus owners.


The most pressing issue had to do with the modification of local aiga buses. Scanlan told the audience that there are no specifications to be used as a guide in custom building aiga buses and the biggest concern is in the area of safety.


Lt. Maiava made it clear that there are no blueprints to follow, when it comes to building buses. He said the issue with installing seat belts for all aiga buses has been tabled for now, until they locate a certified technician who can carry out the job.


According to Scanlan, their position is not to get aiga buses off the road but instead, ensure that they are legal to be in operation and that they comply with all safety standards. He said if a bus crashed right now, the riders would have every right to sue the government.


“What we want to do is follow federal regulations and at the same time, protect the local government and ensure that the general public is safe,” Scanlan said.


He said aiga buses have become a part of our culture and are considered somewhat of a  tourist attraction.


He referred to the issue of seat belts and said bus drivers must wear seat belts because they are at the forefront of the bus and therefore, would suffer the most impact if a head-on collision was to occur. Scanlan said some of the buses that have installed seat belts are not up to par, as the seat belts have been mounted on to wood instead of metal and are therefore, unsafe.


As for emergency exits, Lt. Maiava said buses off island are equipped with emergency exits and there is a need to get the buses here similarly equipped. He said they are working on a plan to make local buses safe and similar to those in Hawaii and the US, where crash safety tests are conducted.


One local bus owner said that since aiga buses are custom made, cutting a back portion of the bus for an emergency exit would weaken the structure of the bus. Another bus owner said speed tests are conducted off island because of the speed limits and therefore, making seat belts mandatory for aiga buses is “unreasonable,” considering that the local speed limit is only 20mph.


“Those drivers that go over the speed limit should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” he added.


But Lt. Maiava disagreed, saying that since aiga buses are built locally and held together by nails, an accident happening at 20-25mph will surely shatter the bus to pieces.


Another concern that was voiced had to do with the size of the emergency exits, which are based on the size of the windows and are too small for the average Samoan to fit through.


A former senator turned bus owner suggested that the buses already on the road should be exempt from the modifications, while new buses that are being built and up for licensing should be required to adhere to the proposed modifications.


Scanlan suggested that standardizing buses should be an issue raised before the Commerce Commission, which he feels should include a representative of the aiga bus community, specifically an owner or bus builder.  He said serious matters that need to be addressed include measurements and requirements for modifications.


“Your voices need to be heard and that is why we are here, to get input from you,” Scanlan told the crowd, adding that he wants to see someone representing commercial vehicle owners on the Commerce Commission which will be discussing the issue involving aiga buses.


He said there are three options in place to protect drivers: lap belt, harness, or airbag. “Which one do you all prefer?” he asked. “These are things we want suggestions on.”


Scanlan said most of the aiga buses are 5-passenger vehicles that have been turned into 11-seater buses and “these kinds of modifications are very unsafe, as the original vehicle was not designed and built to carry all the extra weight.”


(More details on the meeting will be published in tomorrow’s issue.)