Push to cut speed limits faces line of red lights

Top News | Jane Cheung 10 Jan 2019

Pedder Street and Des Voeux Road in Central are among downtown streets that could see 30 kilometer an hour speed limits this year.

The idea is to improve road safety and encourage people to walk, but bus drivers for starters worry it will lead to traffic jams.

The lower speed limit is a measure proposed by a panel that offered recommendations to improve road safety after a deadly smash involving a KMB bus in Tai Po last year.

Commissioner for Transport Mable Chan Mei-bo said on radio yesterday that the report submitted by the Independent Review Committee on Hong Kong's franchised bus services suggested imposing a general speed limit on all roads in the city area of 40km/h and a 30km/h cap on busy streets and in residential areas.

But Lai Siu-chung, deputy director of the Motor Transport Workers General Union's KMB branch, said he was astonished to hear of the proposal.

"I can tell you that in one month the roads will be completely paralyzed and queues of buses may be longer than the Great Wall," he said.

"It's not feasible at all. Traffic in those areas is highly congested, and now you want us to lower the speed to 30km/h. I'd rather walk."

He urged the Transport Department to think again before acting on the idea.

Lo Shi-ching from the union's taxi branch also opposed the proposal, claiming it would inconvenience people.

"It's not reasonable to go at 30km/h on a non-congested road," he said. "It will cause disputes between drivers and passengers."

Lo added: "Most importantly, driving slow doesn't mean it will be safer. Pedestrians will still try to cross roads without regard to traffic lights."

Bus captains also slammed officials for failing to tackle the problem of long working hours as there is nothing to prevent bus operators from arranging special shifts lasting 14 hours for drivers.

Releasing the report on Tuesday, Chan said guidelines on special shifts had been amended and required bus operators to give captains a continuous break of at least three hours during a 14-hour duty.

She also said bus companies could not afford to cancel 14-hour special shifts because doing so would mean having to hire some 1,500 additional drivers.

But Kwok Chi-shing, chairman of the KMB workers union, claimed the Transport Department misled people in its references to special shifts.

Bus operators are "forcing drivers to work long shifts by not hiring sufficient people," he said. Even if a company hired more people in order to cancel special shifts, he added, the headcount would be within company limits.

Legislator Lam Cheuk-ting said it would cost bus companies HK$400 million more each year if they hired 1,500 extra bus drivers, with each paid HK$25,000 a month.

He added that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor "promised to subsidize citizens' expenses on public transport with the MTR's dividend, so she may fulfill the promise if bus fares increased because of additional drivers." He said MTR Corp Ltd paid a HK$4.6 billion dividend to the government annually but only HK$2.3 billion went to public transport.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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