PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Hong Kong bus drivers stop letting passengers alight early in response to police crackdown

Transport firms meet officials to discuss police action after driver ticketed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 12:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 10:15am

Bus companies met with government officials on Monday to discuss recent incidents of police action against illegal parking, the same day drivers in the city took up collective action to only offload passengers at designated stop areas.

Police said they are not targeting buses from the city’s three bus companies – Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB), New World First Bus, and Citybus – following a video on Sunday showing a driver being ticketed outside Jardine House in Central for illegally allowing passengers to alight outside the stop.

Drivers are not allowed to do this, but unions say they sometimes have to thanks to severe congestion, impatient passengers and illegal parking at bus stops by other vehicles.

Hong Kong commuters can expect greater road congestion from bus driver protest, unions warn

In response to the video, the Staff Rights Association union – representing around 200 KMB drivers – organised drivers across the city to strictly follow offloading rules.

Li Kwok-wah, chairman of the union, said he did not know how long the action would continue for, adding that KMB management said they will pay the fine for the driver.

“We hope the passengers can understand that bus drivers are just trying to do their jobs,” he said.

A spokesman from the Transport Department said in a statement: “The overall operation of major bus stops today was generally smooth, and the department will continue to liaise closely with police and bus companies to maintain good traffic conditions.”

Watch: Angry passengers complain about bus driver

Yolanda Ng Yuen-ting, a member of the Wan Chai District Council, called on police to step up law enforcement efforts at a meeting last Tuesday, and said bus drivers should offload passengers at designated stops.

She said it was unexpected that her words may have led to the driver in Central being ticketed.

“I feel sorry for the bus driver and the general public who are affected by the incident,” she said, adding her focus is on illegally parked cars outside the Sogo bus stop in Causeway Bay.

The Transport Department said they will study measures to tackle the problem of illegal parking by taxis in the bus stop near Sogo, according to a spokesman from New World Services (NWS) Transport Services, the umbrella company for New World First Bus and Citybus.

They also met with the Wan Chai District Council and police last night to discuss illegal offloading outside Sogo.

“I have asked for police to enhance their force [with more officers] on illegal parking many, many times, not just in front of Sogo, but in many other places in Causeway Bay,” Ng said. “But still, [the] problem is not sufficiently solved.”

But Li said cars illegally park in bus stops at other stops too, including in many areas in Kowloon.

He hopes the government can clarify what drivers should do to follow the law while avoiding congestion.

Federation of Bus Industry Trade Unions chairman Lam Kam-piu said his group, which represents thousands of bus drivers from KMB, New World First Bus and Citybus, would not “negate actions initiated by [their] colleagues” at the Staff Rights Association.

“We have been negotiating with the Transport Department for a long time as well,” he added.

Lam said the federation had urged officials to create more restricted zones so that other vehicles would not block the bus stops, but the plans were shelved in face of opposition from district representatives.

“I know that traffic has been congested between Central and the Western Harbour Crossing, and it has also been more jammed than usual at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel (between Hung Hom and Causeway Bay),” Lam told the Post.

The unions were not invited to the meeting betweeen the bus companies and Transport Department officials, he said.

Pictures of the union action have circulated on social media, including one of a bus with a sign next to the driver that read: “You can yell at me, hit me or complain about me for today’s actions, but do not ask me why we have to queue up.”

Traffic was heavy at the bus stop outside Jardine House in Central on Monday morning, with 41 buses picking up and dropping off passengers during a 15-minute period before 9am. As many as five buses were seen in the stop area at the same time.

At least three taxis stopped illegally within the area during that period, forcing bus drivers to wait behind the cabs before driving into the stop.

Commuter Ular Go, who takes the bus outside Jardine House regularly, said that in the past, she had noticed buses letting passengers off before getting to the bus stop, as well as taxis parking in the stop area.

“It is a big problem,” she said. “The buses have to let us off [before the stop], and we have to walk over from there.”

Bus passenger Emily Halsall, who commutes daily between Central and Wan Chai, said congestion in the area was “pretty bad”.

“It’s what happens when there’s a big long line of buses in this small space,” she said, noting that it could take as long as five minutes for buses to pull out of the stop due to congestion.

Drivers letting people alight early were just trying to accommodate passengers, she added.

Bus drivers were also complying with offloading rules outside Sogo in Causeway Bay, although at least five taxis drove into the bus stop in a half hour period after 10am, with a few stopping to drop off passengers in front of buses.

A Guardforce van also unloaded boxes in the stop area during this time.

Stella Ng, a passenger waiting for her bus outside Sogo, said congestion was a problem, but she did not think fines were the right answer.

Buses and taxis alike need to stop near the side of the road for passenger convenience, she said.

“This is just the way things are in Hong Kong, since our city is in a very small space,” she said.

Police earlier said that congestion-related traffic offences, including unauthorised unloading in bus zones, had caused “deteriorating” road conditions in the city.

The number of such violations rose by 20 per cent in the first 11 months of last year, and problems “remained unchecked” despite officers stepping up enforcement, according to a Legislative Council brief detailing a proposed 50 per cent increase in penalties for these offences.