Protecting bus drivers not one way

Editorial | Mary Ma 31 Jul 2018

Bus drivers get attacked in nearly every corner of the world.

Just take a look at some of the headlines: "Queensland bus driver assaulted by woman;" "Driver punched in the head;" and "Female bus driver assaulted on the job."

It goes on and on.

What's so different then, when Hong Kong bus drivers are on the receiving end? On average, it seems eight to 10 drivers of our largest bus fleet get thumped each month.

The Motor Transport Workers General Union - representing more than 10,000 employees from five bus companies - has told a hearing of the Independent Review Committee on Hong Kong's Franchised Bus Service of the alarming assault cases on a monthly basis.

The committee was specially set up to examine the industry, after a KMB double-decker flipped over while taking a turn in Tai Po on February 10. Nineteen people were killed and more than 60 others injured in one of the worst bus accidents in the city's history.

The union's figures are a lot higher than KMB's records, which listed 40 assaults against drivers in the first six months of the year.

The discrepancy in the figures is probably because not every incident was reported to the company. And sometimes, the drivers are willing to settle matters privately. Whatever.

Still, if the union's figures are true, the situation is most serious. In the old days, such figures were unheard of.

What's happening in our society, which used to be so polite and friendly.

Is it because passengers are getting too hot headed and arrogant? Or is it because some drivers' attitudes have changed for the worse?

Whatever the reason, attacking a bus driver is wrong and against the law. Passengers must learn to keep their cool. Of course, the drivers also need to stay level headed and polite at all times.

Educating both passengers and drivers may not bring immediate results. The best weapon to stop or deter such attacks from happening is the installation of CCTV cameras.

Following the February accident, there were calls for the bus operators to install cameras facing drivers on all of their vehicles. But drivers are strongly against it up to today. Even safety panels set up by bus firms to shield drivers from being attacked are coming under criticism.

The hearing was told that drivers find the design problematic as it generates noise when the bus is moving. They also said it reflected sunlight onto the windscreen.

According to papers tabled with the committee, 2,319 KMB buses have installed cameras facing the road and driver.

The union said drivers want protection, but some feel stressed about being monitored constantly while they're driving lest they be punished for minor mistakes, like driving with one hand on the steering wheel while drinking water with the other.

This has prompted the committee's chairman, Justice Michael Lunn, to question whether drivers only want to use video footage when it benefits them.

Drivers shouldn't just expect all that's good on their side.

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