Minister pledges to consider law to improve working conditions for Hong Kong bus drivers after committee makes 45 suggestions on road safety
- Secretary for Housing and Transport Frank Chan responds to independent review and says safety is ‘utmost priority’
- Legislation would also increase penalties for abusive passengers
Transport authorities have pledged to look into introducing new legislation to improve the working conditions of Hong Kong’s franchised bus drivers, and take tougher action against abusive passengers, as part of a safety overhaul recommended by an independent review committee.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan on Tuesday said safety was the “utmost priority” after the committee proposed a host of improvements, most of which the government said had already been adopted or were being worked on.
The government will also study the use of the HK$500 million (US$64 million) earmarked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in last year’s policy address, for subsidising franchised bus operators – private operators in the city’s bus network – to install new safety devices such as seat belts, an electronic stability control system and speed limiters.
By late last year, a total of 474 new buses have been ordered with the safety devices.
Chan and Commissioner of Transport Mable Chan, made the commitment after an independent review committee put forward a total of 45 safety-related recommendations to the government last month, following a 21-day inquiry.
The three-member committee, chaired by judge Michael Lunn, who is a vice-president of the Court of Appeal, was appointed by Lam after a crash involving a KMB double-decker bus killed 19 people and injured 65 others in Tai Po in February last year.
It was the city’s deadliest road accident in nearly 15 years.
The incident highlighted growing concern over whether bus operators had put in place sufficient measures, training, support and effective management to ensure driver safety.
Key recommendations included: providing funding for franchised bus operators to promote the uptake of new safety technology, requiring buses to provide real-time alerts of excessive speeding, putting the guidelines on drivers’ working hours, rest times and meal breaks into regulations, introducing special legislation to outlaw threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour towards bus drivers, providing rest and toilet facilities for drivers, as well as issuing fixed penalty tickets to clamp down on illegal stopping of vehicles at bus stops.
“It is clear that there is a growing trend of abuse and assaults of bus drivers performing their duties in delivering a public service … we recommend specific legislation be enacted to make it an offence to make a threatening, abusive or insulting communication towards a bus driver,” the report said.
At present, verbally abusing bus drivers can be punishable with fine of HK$3,000 (US$383), and six months in prison.
For bus drivers, special training should be given to deal with abusive and angry passengers, while fatigue management should be included.
In the report, the committee criticised the government and bus operators for failing to adopt a proactive approach to franchised bus safety.
“The current legislative regime, and the requirements of the franchises granted to bus operators, provide a wholly insufficient emphasis on safety,” the report said.
“As is readily apparent, many of the measures taken by the Transport Department to enhance the safety of franchised buses were reactive to events, rather than being proactive,” it said, pointing out that, despite a requirement in 2003 for public bus operators to install black boxes on new buses from July 2004, no additional requirements were stipulated by the department until August 2018.
But Mable Chan insisted the department had already implemented most of the proposed initiatives, and said it would continue to work on the rest of the recommendations with bus firms.
“Among the 45 recommendations of the report, 44 concern the department’s work, of which 30 items are implemented, or are being implemented, six are under planning to be implemented, and eight are subject to study,” she said.
Frank Chan vowed to work closely with bus operators, and relevant government departments to actively pursue the recommendations, but said those proposals involving legislation needed to be studied in detail.
“We have provided comprehensive and positive responses to each of the recommendations,” Frank Chan said. “We will focus on following up on these actions, in consultation with relevant government departments, and stakeholders, where appropriate.”
KMB has also pledged to strictly implement the initiatives.
“KMB will closely work with the relevant government departments in the areas of enhancing bus safety measures, technology upgrade and drivers’ training with a view of providing a safe bus service,” it said.