28 October 2016
There is a shortage of bus drivers at KMB. Many have quit because of low pay and long hours. Photo: KMB
There is a shortage of bus drivers at KMB. Many have quit because of low pay and long hours. Photo: KMB

Why quality of KMB bus captains is declining

Kowloon Motor Bus Co. Ltd. (KMB) has been engulfed by scandals recently.

First, a female bus captain was caught on camera having no idea how to operate the handbrake in her vehicle, suggesting poor training by the firm.

Then, under a newly introduced system of cross-district duty rosters, bus captains who are unfamiliar with the routes could easily take a wrong turn, increasing the chance of an accident and putting passengers at risk.

Meanwhile, the company is reportedly planning to move its headquarters from Lai Chi Kok to its Kowloon Bay depot to rent out the empty office space to make more profit, and it is rumored that layoffs are in the pipeline.

On the surface, the firm is putting inadequately trained bus captains on the road because of a driver shortage, but the truth is KMB bus captains are so poorly paid and suffer from such long working hours that many have chosen to quit and work for other bus companies instead.

The basic salary of a KMB bus captain is about HK$10,000.

That is why the company is understaffed and has no choice but to put poorly trained rookies on duty.

KMB wouldn’t have been able to let poorly trained bus captains serve on the front line without the approval of the Transport Department, indicating that the government is colluding with big corporations at the expense of public safety, and that collusion has already hit crisis levels.

One might still remember that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying quickly approved KMB’s request to raise bus fares less than a year after he assumed office in 2012.

Although the fare increase was reduced to 4.9 percent from the 8.5 percent proposed by KMB, it remained the highest since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.

After the increase had been approved, Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung even spoke out publicly and tried to justify the fare hike as if he was the spokesman for KMB.

KMB is not just running a bus operation; it also builds homes.

The company is owned by Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. (00016.HK).

The real estate giant bought KMB largely for its valuable land reserve.

Over the years, KMB has generated enormous profit from home sales.

Nonetheless, when earnings of its bus business fell, it still pushed for a fare hike as if there had never been any profit from property development, and the government has been acting as an accomplice.

In fact, bus service in Hong Kong is both ineffective and inefficient, the service routes of the three existing bus companies often overlapping with one another, resulting in constant traffic congestion and high levels of emission of carbon and heat on our main streets.

To address this issue, I suggest that the government unify and reorganize the existing service by purchasing all the three bus companies.

Leung has earmarked HK$10 billion for subsidizing the replacement of old commercial diesel vehicles in his latest policy address.

With that kind of money, our government should be capable of solving the deep-rooted bus service problems once and for all.

Unfortunately, without a genuine election in which our voters can have a real choice, our city will continue to be governed by someone like Leung, who keeps showing favor to big, greedy businesses like KMB.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 5.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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