Hong Kong transport industry struggles with labor shortage

March 07, 2019 11:47
It is estimated that the gap between the supply and demand of drivers in Hong Kong’s public transport system is about 10 to 20 percent. Photo: AFP

Two people were killed and 16 others were injured on Monday after a Citybus double-decker bound for Hong Kong Island crashed into a mid-sized lorry that had stalled in the middle of West Kowloon Highway.

This reminded us of an even more serious road accident in February last year when a KMB bus crashed in Tai Po, killing 19 people. The government released a report afterwards, criticizing the bus company for requiring drivers to work up to 14 hours under a “special shift” arrangement.

On the day of the latest accident, the driver had just returned from sick leave and was assigned to such a shift.

In fact, the special shift is partly a result of bus operators struggling to hire enough drivers. It’s hard to attract young people into their trade.

Driver shortage is a common situation in the transport industry. Operators of minibuses, taxis, vans and trucks are all faced with the same issue.

Lawmaker Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector, estimates that the gap between supply and demand of drivers in the city’s public transport system is about 10 to 20 percent.

Some vehicles are left idle because there are not enough drivers, Yick said.

In an effort to enhance safety, Citybus plans to introduce an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), which can read a driver’s facial expression and sound an alarm or make the driver’s seat vibrate when it looks like they are dropping off.

The anti-drowsiness device has already been installed on 17 buses. Unfortunately, the bus involved in the latest accident was not one of those.

Many may have noticed that there are a lot of elderly taxi drivers, especially in night shifts. This is also a result of driver shortage.

Meanwhile, Japan is also encountering a labor shortage problem, particularly in jobs like convenience store staff, waiters, drivers, delivery man, etc.

Failing to recruit enough staff, 7-Eleven Japan Co. announced recently that 98 percent of its convenience stores across Japan will give up 24-hour operation and shorten the time to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The move comes amid a dispute between the convenience store operator and a franchisee in Osaka, who was forced to close his store between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. due to staff shortage. The owner was sued for 17 million yen (US$152,300) by 7-Eleven Japan for alleged breach of contract.

The lawsuit has stirred up widespread public support for the franchisee owner and eventually triggered a change in the operating hours of the convenience store chain.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 4

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist