Expert panel seeks law against abuse of bus drivers

January 09, 2019 15:11
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan promised to act on the recommendations of the independent review panel in consultation with relevant parties. Photo: HKEJ

Threatening or insulting a bus driver should be treated as a criminal offense.

This was one of the dozens of recommendations made by an expert panel set up to look into a fatal bus crash in Tai Po last year and see how the safety and reliability of Hong Kong's franchised bus services could be enhanced.

The government, which made public on Tuesday the three-member committee's report, pledged to act on its recommendations in consultation with relevant parties, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The panel, chaired by Justice Michael Victor Lunn, vice-president of the Court of Appeal of the High Court, said there is a noticeable trend of abuse and assault of bus captains when they are driving, and therefore suggested that such acts be treated as a criminal offense.

It cited the example of Singapore, where people committing acts of threatening, abusive or insulting communication against a bus driver may face a maximum fine of nearly HK$30,000 or up to 12 months imprisonment or both.

On Feb. 10 last year, a No. 872 KMB double-decker bus on its way from the Sha Tin racecourse to Tai Po Centre flipped over to its side when it was taking a turn near Tai Po Kau. Nineteen passengers were killed and more than 60 others were injured in the tragedy.

Some surviving passengers said the bus driver became grumpy and drove the bus at abnormally high speed, after he was berated by passengers for being late, and this led to the tragedy, according to media reports.

A month after the accident, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the establishment of an independent committee to review the city's franchised bus services.

In its report of more than 200 pages, the panel also recommended that the Transport Department require franchise bus operators to install video cameras with audio capability at the vehicle's entrance and next to the bus captain's seating area on all franchised buses, with notices being posted to advise bus passengers of the presence of those cameras, their capabilities and, if appropriate, their potential use in criminal proceedings.

It also asked officials to consider restricting the bus captain's maximum working hours and study whether it is safe to allow them to do 14-hour shifts, RTHK reported.

In response to the report, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said: “The great majority of the committee’s recommendations are very practical and have proven to be effective in other jurisdictions like London, Melbourne and Singapore, from which the committee has sought input from their respective regulatory bodies for reference.”

The government has made comprehensive and positive responses to each of the recommendations and will focus on following up on such actions, in consultation with the relevant bureaus, departments and stakeholders, Chan added.

Commissioner for Transport Mable Chan Mei-bo said 44 of the panel's 45 recommendations pertain to the work of the Transport Department, adding that 30 of the recommendations have been implemented or are being implemented, six are planned to be implemented, and eight are subject to study.

Chan said the panel, which conducted hearings for nine months, also recommended discussions with the franchised bus operators "to align a common threshold for the black box monitoring of acceleration, deceleration and speeding".

Welcoming the committee's report, Lai Siu-chung, director of the KMB branch of the Motor Transport Workers General Union, said that aside from the efforts being taken by the Transport Department, the police should also step up law enforcement.

KMB, New World First Bus and Citybus promised to work with the government to provide safer services.

Lam said she has studied the committee’s report, which she received on Dec. 31, and asked the Transport and Housing Bureau to ensure that its recommendations are thoroughly examined and expeditiously implemented where appropriate. 

Aside from Justice Lunn, the other members of the panel were Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, chairman of the Council of Lingnan University, and Professor Lo Hong-kam, chair professor and department head of the department of civil and environmental engineering of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

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