The government should propose a law criminalising “threatening, abusive or insulting communication” towards bus drivers at work, an independent review committee has suggested.
The committee’s report came after it launched an inquiry into Hong Kong’s bus services headed by senior judge Michael Lunn. The inquiry followed a bus accident last February that killed 19 and injured more than 60 people.
Witnesses of the accident said that passengers had been shouting at the bus driver for being behind schedule.
“Regrettably, it is clear that there is a growing trend of abuse and assaults of bus captains performing their duties in delivering a public service,” the report said. “[It] is a matter of considerable concern not only to the bus captains, as expressed by the many submissions made by the trade unions but also to the franchised bus operators.”
Commissioner for Transport Mable Chan responded on Tuesday by saying that there was already a law banning passengers from obstructing the work of bus captains.
Passengers could be fined HK$3,000 and jailed for six months for committing such acts, without having an excuse.
“The government will review whether the existing laws are adequate,” she said.
The committee made 45 suggestions in the report. These included installing speed limiting devices and setting up a low-speed zone in which a vehicle cannot exceed 30 kilometres per hour.
The Transport Department said it would accept 36 of them, of which 30 have already been implemented. It also said it was looking for suitable locations in Central and Shum Shui Po in which to experiment with low-speed zones.
The committee also recommended that bus companies reconsider safety issues related to a “special shift” for drivers in which they might be working for 14 hours straight.
A set of official guidelines for bus companies was amended after last February’s accident.
Drivers’ maximum driving hours were reduced to ten hours a day. However, a new special shift that meant drivers might be on duty for 14 hours, including rest hours, was incorporated into the guidelines.
The committee said in the report that the special shift was “clearly a compromise” between bus companies and drivers, given the chronic shortage of drivers. It cited the fact that some drivers wished to work very long hours to earn more, as a market factor affecting the move.
“Obviously, that [14-hour work] regime necessarily increases the risk of accumulated fatigue in bus captains, not only in a relatively short period of time but also over extended periods of time,” the committee said.
Mable Chan said in response that the special shift is necessary because of increased traffic during the morning and early evening.
She said the bus companies in question will have to hire up to 1,500 more drivers, if the special shift were to be scrapped.