Safety on Hong Kong buses must be ensured after tragedy
In the wake of three deaths and dozens of injuries, the government should work with operators to review work shifts and rest hours for drivers
Hong Kong is still haunted by Friday’s fatal bus accident, not only as a result of the horrifying images and casualties involved but also because it exposed important safety issues that have long been taken for granted. We trust the government will work with the transport industry to strengthen protection for passengers’ safety as a matter of urgency.
In one of the worst bus tragedies in recent years, a Citybus double-decker mounted a pavement packed with pedestrians and ploughed into an overhanging canopy at a Sham Shui Po junction during rush hour, killing three people and injuring dozens of others. Casualties could have been worse, as reflected in the accounts of those who narrowly escaped. The 44-year-old driver, who was unhurt, was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving causing death and bailed. Reports said he had been working a few hours earlier than usual recently to make more money. Police are now investigating.
Under current guidelines, a bus driver can work up to 14 hours a day, including 11 hours behind the wheel. Citybus management admitted a manpower shortage had been an issue; but was adamant the driver concerned had been given enough rest time, at least 10 hours, between shifts.
One has to wonder whether 10 hours of rest is sufficient for a job as physically and mentally demanding as a bus driver. The matter is further compounded by the city’s traffic conditions, which are notoriously challenging. From time to time, there have been accidents associated with the health of drivers and their insufficient rest. According to reports, in what the bus company described as an individual case, the driver in Friday’s crash had recently been working 14 hours a day. Whether insufficient rest time was a contributing factor shall be a matter for the bus management and investigators to find out. But passengers may be excused for having second thoughts in entrusting their safety to someone working exceptionally long hours with little rest.
Safety is of utmost importance to public transport. As unionists have complained, it is not rare for bus drivers to work extra hours because of their meagre salaries. If the extreme working hours permitted under the guidelines becomes the norm, there is every reason for an overhaul.
Yesterday, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung set the right tone by instructing the Transport Department to address the relevant issues seriously.
Officials should work with bus operators to review the work shifts and rest hours for drivers.