Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Cheng Kar-foo and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 25):
On November 9 this year, a serious traffic accident involving a cross-harbour bus occurred in Tseung Kwan O, and as at the 18th of this month, the accident had already resulted in two deaths and over 30 injuries. It was reported that the bus driver concerned was suspected of speeding, which caused the accident. Regarding the safety of franchised buses, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it knows the details of the current systems adopted by the various franchised bus companies to test the driving skills and behaviour of their bus drivers, and whether they include regular inspections; if so, of the number of inspections carried out by the various franchised bus companies in each of the past three years, and the number of cases in which bus drivers were found to have breached the relevant safe driving requirements (e.g. speeding and failing to comply with traffic signals, etc.) during the inspections; whether the Transport Department regularly carries out surprise inspections of the driving skills and behaviour of bus drivers; if so, of the number of inspections carried out in each of the past three years, and the outcome of the inspections; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) given that press reports have pointed out that the bus driver concerned was driving the bus involved in the accident as a relief driver at that time, and franchised bus companies also adopt such a means from time to time to save expenditure on drivers' overtime pay, whether it has looked into the prevalence of the aforesaid situation and its impact on the rest time of bus drivers and road safety; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and whether it will consider amending the "Guidelines on Working Schedule for Franchised Bus Drivers", so as to further improve bus drivers' rest time; and
(c) whether it will reconsider requiring seat belts be retrofitted to all seats of franchised buses by amending the law or when signing the franchise agreements with franchised bus companies in the future, so as to safeguard passenger safety; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
(a) Franchised bus companies are required to provide safe, proper and efficient bus services. They arrange various training programmes for their bus captains, including the training courses for new recruits, enhancement/refresher training for serving bus captains and special/remedial training, so as to ensure that their bus captains are capable of providing safe and reliable services. The bus companies have also established a mechanism to monitor the driving skills and behaviour of their bus captains, and have put in place relevant incentive and penalty schemes.
Franchised bus companies reward their bus captains with bonus for commendable driving skills and service performance. In the past three years, bus captains eligible for the safe driving bonus each month account for 98% or above in the Kowloon Motor Bus Company (1933) Limited (KMB), the Citybus Limited (CTB), the New World First Bus Services Limited (NWFB), the Long Win Bus Company Limited (LW) and the New Lantao Bus Company (1973) Limited (NLB). As regards bus captains who are unable to meet the requirements of the bus companies, they will not receive the safe driving bonus. They will also receive additional training and coaching from the bus companies. If necessary, the bus companies may impose other penalties.
As regards the monitoring system, franchised bus companies deploy plainclothes inspectors who possess the qualification of driving instructors to ride on buses as passengers to assess the driving skills and service performance of the bus captains. Bus captains being monitored fall into two categories: those who are involved in passengers' complaints or traffic accidents, and those who are randomly selected by the inspectors for different time slots and routes. In parallel, the major bus companies deploy inspectors to traffic accident black spots or locations prone to speeding to check by using laser guns if their buses exceed the speed limits.
In the three years from 2006 to 2008, an average of about 62,500 on-board inspections were carried out by KMB per year, 4,000 by CTB, 4,000 by NWFB, 450 by LW and 150 by NLB. During the same period, around 700 speed checks using laser guns were conducted by KMB, 1,900 by CTB, 900 by NWFB, 200 by LW and 24 by NLB. The bus captains in 97% of such inspections and checks of KMB, 98% of CTB, 97% of NWFB, 97% of LW and 98% of NLB were found to possess satisfactory driving skills and service performance without committing speeding.
In view of public concerns about bus service safety, we have met with major bus companies and reiterated the importance of safe driving as well as requested them to take some immediate actions. The bus companies have committed to strictly implementing their internal monitoring systems to assess bus captains' safe driving skills and service performance, and to enhance awareness of such a system. Major bus companies have strengthened the manpower in their inspections carried out by plainclothes inspectors and their speed checks using laser guns, in particular for the night-time shifts and routes involving higher speed sections. In monitoring night-time shifts, KMB has increased its inspection from about 100 buses on average per month to 400 - 500 buses per month. CTB and NWFB also stepped up their inspection from 40 buses per month for each company to 250 - 300 buses per month for each company. In parallel, the bus companies have undertaken to equip newly purchased buses with the operation data recording device commonly known as "black box". They will also continue the retrofitting of the black box on in-service buses. The installation aims to monitor the driving behaviour of the bus captains, including speeding.
To help bus captains who have underperformed in terms of driving skills and behaviour or violated the traffic legislations, each franchised bus company has respectively put in place a mechanism to initiate follow-up actions, such as arranging special/remedial training or instructions for bus captains with improper driving behaviour. Bus companies may, as the circumstances require, impose on these bus captains different levels of penalties ranging from warning, wage deduction, suspension and termination of duty, etc. Like all other motorists, bus captains driving on the road are subject to the regulation of the Road Traffic Ordinance and the Road Traffic (Driving-offence Points) Ordinance. Offenders will be prosecuted by the Police and penalised by the Court. The penalties include fine, incurring of driving-offence points and licence suspension.
The Transport Department (TD) monitors bus operation safety by analysing various data in the operation reports, including statistics, categories and causes of accidents, submitted regularly by the bus companies, as well as complaints and feedback from passengers. Upon receipt of complaints on alleged violation of traffic legislations by the bus captains or their improper service attitudes, TD will follow up and investigate the cases immediately with the bus companies concerned and require them to take appropriate improvement measures. Separately, TD, in conjunction with the Police, conducts quarterly review with the management of the bus companies on bus operation safety. A number of workshops are also held annually in which safe driving skills and behaviour are explained to the bus captains by the Police with a view to promoting safety in bus operation.
(b) Regarding the accident occurred in Tseung Kwan O on November 9, 2009, the KMB bus captain of route N293 (Mong Kok East Station - Sheung Tak) concerned was a "scheduled replacement captain".
The first trip of KMB route N293 sets off at 11.55pm from Sheung Tak every day and the last trip at 5.30am from Mong Kok East Station and Sheung Tak. The bus captains serving this route work for about five to six hours per shift. Owing to relatively short service hours of N293, some bus captains serving this route are assigned to serve both route N293 and another specified route in the same shift. Besides, all bus captains are entitled to take annual leave and causal leave. When their bus captains take leave or are absent from duty, the bus companies will arrange "scheduled replacement captains" to provide bus services.
Buses serve passengers every day. In order to enable their bus captains to take leave or rest and to maintain bus services, all franchised bus companies adopt the "scheduled replacement captain" arrangement. This is an operational arrangement to facilitate manpower deployment, and is not directly related to the basic salary or overtime pay of individual bus captains. "Scheduled replacement captains" have all received training in relation to the routes they are assigned to serve. They will not be arranged to serve unfamiliar routes.
To ensure sufficient rest time for the bus captains, TD has formulated for franchised bus companies "Guidelines on Working Schedule for Franchised Bus Drivers" ("the guidelines"). At present, all bus companies schedule the working hours of their bus captains in full compliance with the guidelines. Should the bus companies fail to follow the guidelines, TD will require explanation from the bus companies concerned and remind them of the requirement of full compliance. TD reviews regularly the guidelines with the bus companies and maintains close liaisons with the trade unions of the bus captains to listen to their views on bus operations. The bus companies also maintain close contact with the trade unions and would review the shift arrangements taking into account the latter's suggestions. This is to ensure their service level on the one hand and ensure sufficient rest time for their bus captains on the other. In parallel, we have requested the bus companies to review the bus schedules set for different routes and make necessary adjustments, in consultation with TD, to ensure that their bus captains have proper rest.
(c) According to the findings of studies carried out by TD, bus operators and bus manufacturers, it is technically infeasible to retrofit pre-1997 design buses with seat belts, but the bus companies have agreed to and already retrofitted additional horizontal guard rail across the upper deck windscreen. For buses designed after 1997, it is feasible to retrofit seat belts at the exposed seats at the front row on the upper deck. The bus companies completed the above retrofitting work in 2008. In addition, all exposed seats of new double deck buses purchased after 2003 have been installed with seat belts to enhance protection for passengers. The Government will, from time to time, review bus equipment and take necessary follow-up actions with a view to improving safety of bus passengers.
Ends/Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:33