Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Email this article
LCQ18: Student service vehicle safety

     Following is a question by the Hon Paul Tse Wai-chun and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung,in the Legislative Council today (November 7):


     Some parents of school children have pointed out to me the serious overloading problem of school private light buses (commonly known as "nanny vans"), and they have expressed discontent with the requirement under the existing legislation that for the purpose of establishing the number of persons that may be carried in a vehicle, three school children aged 3 years or above but each not exceeding 1.3 metre in height shall be counted as two passengers ("the requirement").  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of complaints received in each of the past three years about overloading of nanny vans; how the Government handled such complaints, and whether it has stepped up law enforcement and amended the relevant legislation, so as to improve the situation; in addition, the number of accidents in which school children were injured while travelling on nanny vans;

(b) whether it has assessed if the current number of nanny vans is insufficient to meet the market demand, resulting in a shortfall in nanny van services; if the assessment result shows such a situation, of the reasons for that, and whether it has reviewed if the shortfall in nanny van services, coupled with the aforesaid requirement, has resulted in the prevalent overloading of nanny vans; if it has, of the review result; if not, whether it will immediately conduct such a review;

(c) given that some educational institutions require parents of school children to sign a "letter of consent for referral of nanny van services", which stipulates that in order to comply with the "guidelines" of the Transport Department, school bus companies may arrange a student to share a seat with his companion (i.e. two students taking one seat), whether the authorities have assessed if such practice contravenes the requirement; if they have, of the assessment result, and how they will follow up the matter; if not, whether they can follow it up immediately; and

(d) whether it has conducted any study on the exclusion of nanny vans from the vehicle classes to which the aforesaid requirement is applicable, in order to require that nanny vans must operate in the mode of "one school child taking one seat"; if it has, of the study results; if not, the policies and measures to be introduced to ensure that nanny vans, carrying school children under the mode of three school children being counted as two passengers, shall comply with the requirements under section 73(1AA) of the Road Traffic (Construction and Maintenance of Vehicles) Regulations (Cap. 374 sub. leg. A) by installing seats which have high back rests, better fit children's body shape and are more effective in absorbing impact, so as to provide school children travelling on nanny vans with appropriate protection?


     The Transport Department (TD) has all along paid much attention to the operation of student service vehicles (SSVs), to ensure the safety of students during their journeys to and from schools.  To monitor the performance of SSVs, TD takes a proactive approach by sending staff to schools in various districts to conduct irregular spot checks on such vehicles to see if there is any violation of the passenger service licence (PSL), such as unauthorised adaptation, overloading or non-provision of escort on board. TD also liaises with the Police in co-ordinating inspection work.  

     Also, upon receipt of complaints, TD will, according to the particulars of the case concerned, send staff to carry out spot checks on site the operation and arrangement of the service.

     Under the above two circumstances, if it is found during inspection or investigation that the SSV concerned has breached the law or violated the PSL, TD will follow up on the case in accordance with the relevant legislation.

     In addition, regarding the operation of student service, TD has maintained close contact with the trade by holding regular meetings to convey safety messages.  Before the start of the school year, TD reminds all educational institutions and student service operators via letters, briefs and guidelines on the points to note when providing and using the service, including safety rules for students on board, advice for the driver and escort, the required vehicle facilities and service endorsements.  Such information is also uploaded onto the website of the Education Bureau for better publicity.

     My replies to the four parts of the question are as follows:

(a) In the past three years, TD received altogether nine complaints about overloading of school private light buses (SPLBs) (commonly known as "nanny vans"), i.e. one in 2010, four in 2011 and four in 2012 (as at September 30).  Investigation into the five complaints received in 2010 and 2011 has completed.  Four of them did not involve overloading and the remaining one case was found to be substantiated after an inquiry by TD.  The Commissioner for Transport (C for T) has decided that the PSL of the two SPLBs operated by the licence holder concerned be suspended for one month and the penalty has been implemented.  As for the four complaints received after the start of the 2012 school year, investigation is still ongoing.

     Under the current legislation, acts involving unauthorised adaptation and overloading are liable to a fine of $10,000 and to imprisonment of six months. If violation of the PSL conditions is involved, C for T may cancel, suspend or alter the PSL of the licence holder after an inquiry.  We consider the current penalties sufficiently deterrent.

     The numbers of traffic accidents involving injuries of students on their SPLB trips to and from schools in the past three years are as follows:

Year          No. of            No. of
         traffic accidents    injured students
2010            5                    17
2011            8                    32
2012            7                    25
(as at September 30)

     The above mentioned accidents were minor in nature and the students involved suffered minor injuries.

(b) Under the existing regulatory regime, operators of SPLBs may, according to demand and their operating conditions, apply for addition or adjustment in the number of SSVs.  All they have to do is to submit an application to TD.  Vehicles can provide the service as soon as their safety standards are confirmed to be in compliance with the relevant requirements.  In other words, the Government acts in concert with the supply and demand of the free market.  Information provided by TD also indicates that the number of SPLBs has increased from 1,259 in late 2011 to 1,457 at present.  The above shows that the current regime has already provided sufficient flexibility to cope with market supply and demand and meet service needs.  

     Routine inspection by TD shows that overloading of SPLBs is not prevalent.  Any overloading cases will be dealt with strictly by the Administration in accordance with the law.

(c) We note the parents' concern about the arrangement of "two students sharing one seat" proposed by SSV operators.  It has been explained clearly to the complainants that such arrangement did not conform to the safety guidelines concerning students travelling on SSVs and section 53(1) of the Road Traffic (Traffic Control) Regulations (the Regulations) (Cap 374G), i.e. the legitimate method for calculating flexibly the number of passengers is that "three children aged three years or above but each not exceeding 1.3 metres in height may be counted as two persons".  TD has issued letters to SSV operators to remind them of the legal requirements, including clarification of the above misunderstanding.  

     TD will continue to monitor closely the SSV operation to ensure compliance with the relevant legislation and the safety of school children on board.

(d) Currently, section 53(1) of the Regulations allows the counting of three children aged three years or above but each not exceeding 1.3 metres in height as two adults when calculating the number of passengers that can be carried on board.  This flexible calculation method applies to all vehicles, including those providing student service.  It is also stipulated in section 53(2) of the Regulations that, when carrying passengers in accordance with the relevant legislation, the driver should make sure that the passengers are seated in a properly constructed seat secured to the bodywork of the vehicle.  Generally speaking, seats originally designed for two adults can be shared by three children given their smaller build.

     Such legislation is not unique to Hong Kong.  Similar provisions are adopted by at least ten overseas jurisdictions including the UK, Ireland, Australia, the US and Singapore.  For example, it is specified under the UK law that three children aged below 14 years may be counted as two adults; in Australia (except Australian Capital Territory), three children aged 12 years or below are allowed to be counted as two adults on student service buses.  In Hong Kong, the relevant legal requirement applies to children not exceeding 1.3 metres in height.  As shown by the children's growth chart used in community clinics of the Department of Health, children aged about 11 years in Hong Kong are usually taller than 1.3 metres.  As such, the legal requirement adopted in Hong Kong is comparable to or more restrictive than those used in the above overseas jurisdictions.

     At present, new SSVs registered on or after May 1, 2009 must comply with the requirements on passenger seats as specified under the Road Traffic (Construction and Maintenance of Vehicles) Regulations (Cap 374A), including the provision of safer seats and restraining barriers.  On implementation, TD examines every new SSV to ensure conformity with the requirements under the regulations before granting approval for registration.  All SSVs have to pass an annual vehicle examination to confirm compliance with the requirements on safer seats and restraining barriers in order to have their licences renewed.

     We consider that the existing legislation and measures are sufficient to protect the safety of school children using SSVs.  There is no need to exclude SSVs (including SPLBs) from the requirement of "counting three children as two passengers" under the Regulations.

Ends/Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:09


Print this page