Wednesday, January 8, 2014, 07:38
A few careless bus drivers hurting sector’s reputation
By Paul Surtees

As Op-Ed Editor Albert Lin pointed out in these columns recently, the extensive public transport network here in Hong Kong is one of the most sophisticated and efficient in the world. However, sad to say, a few miscreant public bus drivers can spoil that enviable general reputation, by doing their job carelessly.

A few careless bus drivers hurting sector’s reputationI am thinking of those engaged in bus driving, whose previous haulage loads were likely to have been cabbages, wardrobes, rubbish or other inanimate objects, before they switched from lorry-driving to the public transport sector. It is very clear that some such individuals have never been properly instructed on how to give a safe and comfortable journey to their bus passengers, and that very unsatisfactory situation is to be much regretted and — we may hope — soon much improved upon. I write here of the miscreant few; though their poor driving blackens unfairly the good repute of the many, who in fact do drive carefully.

In many other jurisdictions, bus companies would only consider employing as drivers — with many lives in their hands — those whose own driving is a byword for safety, and for not taking any risks at all. Hong Kong’s ranks of public bus drivers comprise many such people; but also some who fall way below those enviably high standards of care.

For example, the more scrupulous drivers refrain from driving off from a bus stop, until their elderly or frail new passengers have had a chance to take their seats. This patience is required for only under a minute, in most cases. Nevertheless, some drivers seem to relish stamping down on the accelerator the moment the doors close, throwing everybody about in the process. On the busy downtown streets of Hong Kong, they likely cannot proceed along very far without some holdup or other forcing them to slow down or to stop completely, anyway. It is, therefore, absurd, inappropriate and downright dangerous for them to seek to take off as though they are propelling a racing car which is leaving the pits in a race!

These speed-addicts are not above swerving suddenly into fast-flowing traffic in another lane. The sheer size of their vehicle forces other road users to brake suddenly to avoid crashing into the bus; a possibility sure to hurt the car much more than a huge bus. Such careless driving, unfortunately none too rare here, is both dangerous to other road users and supremely uncomfortable for the bus passengers — especially if they are unlucky enough to be standing at the time.

Adding to passenger discomfort must be the impositions forced upon the paying travelers by the bus firms themselves. Even nowadays, in winter weather, little blasts of freezing air are propelled from on-board air conditioning outlets, many seemingly positioned at just the right angle to force an unstoppable stream of icy air down the back of your neck! As this involuntary passenger cooling takes place, there is all-too-often a concomitant assault upon passenger eardrums, by the noisy drivel the bus companies arrange to blast out from the on-board ‘’entertainment’’ screens which probably benefits the bus companies more through the advertising dollars it generates.

Situated at busy road junctions around Hong Kong are clearly-marked yellow colored areas that no vehicle is supposed to enter, unless it can also readily exit from it. If that rule is followed scrupulously, many a traffic jam can be avoided at junctions. But if something as large as a bus parks itself on the prohibited area, you may be sure that delays will be caused to many drivers of lesser vehicles. And yes, sure enough, many bus and private car drivers blithely ignore this traffic regulation and cause numerous traffic jams, as a result.

Then there is the double-edged sword of the fantastically regular frequency of our bus services. For passengers, it is great to never have to wait more than a few minutes for a bus on any one of our numerous routes. For Hong Kong’s air, this is far less satisfactory; clearly, there are too many buses on our roads and some of the older vehicles emit clouds of polluting smog into the roadside atmosphere. Having that air conditioning going full blast, even in winter when it is not really needed, must use up more energy than is necessary.

It is said that you could readily travel, at any time of the day, from Admiralty to Central by simply walking on the roofs of the scores of public double-decker buses stretched bumper-to-bumper at that busy downtown locale. There are far too many different bus routes, many of them overlapping with each other. It is particularly disconcerting to see any huge buses clogging up the roads bearing only a handful of passengers each, during rush hours.

The author is a Hong Kong-based commentator, who has traveled on public buses in over 50 foreign countries.