Hong Kong transport officials probe whether bus in fatal crash had the licence needed to run service
- Transport Department says coach had three passenger service licences
- But not the specific permit for employee shuttle services
The bus involved in a deadly crash near Hong Kong’s airport may not have carried the licence required to run the service, prompting an investigation by transport officials, it has emerged.
But Kwoon Chung Bus Holdings dismissed concerns, saying what was most important was that it had third-party insurance coverage.
The coach slammed into a broken-down taxi on the Cheung Tsing Highway in Tsing Yi at about 5am on Friday. Three coach passengers were thrown out by the impact and died at the scene. The driver, who was also tossed out, remained in a critical condition on Saturday.
The taxi driver and another coach passenger were certified dead upon arrival at hospitals.
According to a statement from the Transport Department, the coach had three passenger service licences, meaning it could be used to pick up and drop off passengers from hotels and schools as well as for contract hire services.
But it said Kwoon Chung did not have the specific licence to offer a service provided by employers to pick up and drop off workers. The 36 passengers on the ill-fated trip were employees from five companies providing services at Hong Kong International Airport, including 20 from Cathay Pacific Group.
The department did not make clear whether the lack of a licence meant the company broke any rules.
“The Department will conduct an investigation looking at the conditions of service operation of the business operator and the nature of the services provided at the time of the incident,” it said.
The chairman of the bus company, Matthew Wong Leung-pak, said it was still trying to find out the exact licence requirements of the coach involved, but said that according to his understanding the licence that allowed contract hire services could still be valid under these circumstances.
“I understand that the public is concerned about who is responsible, but what is also important is that all our buses are covered by third-party insurances,” Wong said.
“Passengers need not worry. We will claim for the compensation that they deserve according to the insurance policy. That is our responsibility,” he said.
He said the company would review whether it had neglected to obtain the licence and to check if its entire fleet of more than 1,000 buses was covered by all four licences to avoid the same situation in the future.
At 6pm on Saturday, a government spokesman said five of the injured – four men and a woman – were still in hospital.
That included the coach driver, Fok Chi-sum, 62, who was still in a critical condition in the intensive care unit at Princess Margaret Hospital, according to Wong.
The four others were in a stable condition.
The department issues passenger licences to regulate the number of vehicles on the road and to avoid congestion in certain areas.
Transport sector lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming said non-franchised buses often had several licences so they could make several trips a day aimed at different groups. He said if Kwoon Chung had broken the rules it could get a warning for a first offence, but could face a suspension if it has done the same thing before.
He said it was possible that a bus could be used for a job it is not licensed for, when companies have to swap buses onto a route.
“The licences are tied to a specific car plate, but if one of the buses breaks down the company has to immediately swap in its spare buses,” Yick said, adding that it could have been a result of human error.
Yick urged the government to be less stringent when issuing the permits, saying bus companies require flexibility in their day-to-day business.
Insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por said insurance claims were a separate issue from whether the bus had complied with licensing requirements.
He said that while passengers could claim on third-party insurance, claiming statutory compensation for a work injury as a result of an accident would depend on whether the vehicle was provided by or on behalf of the employer.