Time to take high road on safety

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Feb 2018

Nineteen people lost their lives in the Tai Po bus crash, with many people asking whether such a tragedy could have been avoided.

Many media outlets cited passengers as reporting the double-decker was travelling too fast when negotiating the bend. Police have made clear that speeding is one of the key areas investigators are looking into. Others factors include the psychological condition of the driver and mechanical aspects of the vehicle.

The 30-year-old driver, Chan Ho-ming, has been arrested for dangerous driving causing death and grievous bodily harm, and could possibly face manslaughter charges.

As our thoughts go out to the families of the deceased and injured, it's important to learn from this and past accidents involving buses, that are the second most popular mode of public transport in Hong Kong. In 2016, franchised buses carried nearly four million passengers a day - second only to the MTR.

In addition to investigating the driver, the authorities should look into the management of KMB as well find out if there are any systemic factors that might have contributed to the accident.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, immediately after hearing news of the tragedy, announced that a judge will lead an independent inquiry to look into the safety of public transportation as a whole, particularly that of buses.

That's absolutely necessary and I hope a judge will be named soon. It will be essential to keep the scope of the inquiry broad enough to learn the most from this and past lessons.

Enough cannot be said about the pertinence of experience to road safety. Is it only legitimate for passengers to expect their safety to be trusted with someone who is familiar with every curve of the roads between destinations?

Yesterday, a member of the KMB bus drivers' union accused the company management of a shift in recent years to hiring part-time drivers. It can't be more disturbing to learn that. By coincidence or not, the driver involved in Saturday's deadly crash was a part-timer.

The hiring of part-time drivers reflected to a large extent the existing shortage of full-time drivers in the bus firm.

Passengers are concerned. They should be since many part-timers often also hold down a full-time job elsewhere. By the time they finish their full-time jobs, would they have sufficient rest before moonlighting and taking control behind the wheel?

If KMB has a policy to use part-time drivers, is it out of consideration to save operating costs, or a result of a brain drain? In either case, accidents are just waiting to happen.

There have been bus accidents time and again. In September, a double decker plowed pedestrians on a pavement, killing three. Then, grave concerns were voiced over the condition of long working hours facing drivers, and the government promised a review. What are the review outcomes?

The Tai Po crash was so deadly that some heads would roll had it occurred in other jurisdictions. It's incredible that KMB managing director Roger Lee Chak-cheong hasn't appeared in public so far to face questions.

Lam said a number of charities are committing millions of dollars to aid the families of the dead and injured. However, no compensation is enough for the loss of life.

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