Safety gets lip service in bus fiasco

Like many employees, I normally don't have strong opinions when others take industrial action, knowing all they want are better wages.

Mary Ma

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Like many employees, I normally don't have strong opinions when others take industrial action, knowing all they want are better wages.

However, I do have strong feelings on the issue this time - what with the goings-on at Kowloon Motor Bus.

The strike, called by the previously unheard of Monthly Paid Bus Drivers Alliance that is led by former Chinese opera singer Yip Wai-lam, was doomed from the start. Failing to win sympathy from the public and support from other drivers, the alliance had little power in its attempt to bargain with the company.

Worse still, the action was deemed absolutely distasteful in some quarters for its perceived attempt to cash in on a tragedy just two weeks ago in which 19 KMB passengers lost their lives.

For these drivers cannot know for a fact that these people could have been still alive had working conditions been different?

We will know from the ensuing court proceedings how they had died needlessly.

It's no less appalling to see another KMB drivers' union, affiliated with the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions, try to play catchup on the alliance with demands for an 8 percent pay hike. Unionism is an ugly business when its proponents are seen to be trying to exploit a major disaster to their own ends.

The burning issue has always been about bus safety since the deadly Tai Po bus crash. If these drivers think passengers' safety can only be guaranteed with increased wages, they are not suitable for the trade and had better changed jobs before another major accident happens.

Ultimately, it's all about attitude and a sense of responsibility.

The government is setting up an independent inquiry to be headed by a judge. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has promised the scope of the inquiry will be comprehensive.

It would be great if ity could start as soon as possible. With public safety at stake, people are looking forward to it.

If the worst comes to the worst, I fail to see why the public shouldn't accept bus-service cutbacks when our subway network is already so extensive it is duplicating not a few bus routes.

Politicians at the district council level should stop objecting vehemently to cutbacks to redundant bus services when they're drastically underutilized and take manpower away from where they're most needed.

Much has been reported in the media about what had happened before and after the accident.

KMB can't shake off blame, when its policy is to make up for shortfalls of regular bus captains with part-timers and its lack of training comes under attack.

Transport officials should also share the blame. Revised guidelines that shorten drivers' time behind the steering wheel and lengthen their breaks in wake of the accident were long overdue. Why couldn't they have been put in place sooner?

When all's said and done, however, drivers, being professionals, are ultimately responsible for passenger safety.