THE DEADLY BUS ACCIDENT at Tai Po was followed by a swift shift of the focus of attention. At first people pointed the finger at the part-time bus driver. Then they began to focus on bus drivers' low rates of remuneration. The KMB has recently announced a new package of remuneration and overtime pay. But it is highly questionable whether the new measure will attract new blood and ease the strain on manpower.
As the Tai Po accident involved a part-time driver, the KMB earlier announced that it would stop assigning shifts to part-time drivers so as not to cause passengers anxiety. Trade unions, however, focus on remuneration, arguing that drivers earn too low a salary. To make ends meet, many drivers have had no choice but to work overtime, which causes excessive fatigue and endangers passengers. The KMB has thus decided to change the formula for calculating remuneration. The "safety bonus" and "service bonus", which were awarded to full-time drivers in accordance with performance, will become part of drivers' basic salaries. As a result, drivers on a monthly income will see their initial salaries rise nearly 30 per cent to $15,365. Their overtime pay will also increase by 35 per cent.
People working as drivers in Hong Kong have a median salary of $16,404, while a full-time KMB driver has an initial salary of just $11,810. To attract new blood and improve the remuneration of drivers currently on the payroll, the KMB should adjust their salaries. The problem is that the new measures proposed by the KMB are just "a numbers game" that will not improve drivers' remuneration significantly.
Since the bus accident at Tai Po, there have been views that the accident happened because bus companies have been employing more and more part-time drivers. No doubt the issue of part-time drivers has to be given proper regard. However, it is not fair to make a sweeping statement. According to the KMB, 70 per cent of part-time drivers are former full-time drivers who have recently retired. Though over 60 years of age, they are as seasoned as they are old and have a lot of experience. Their sense of professional responsibility is comparable to that of full-time drivers. The true problem reflected by the Tai Po bus accident is the failure of bus company managements, some passengers and even some part-time drivers to treat the profession of bus-driving seriously.
It goes without saying that the lack of respect for bus-driving has to a certain extent to do with social prejudices. Some people use salary as the only yardstick by which to evaluate the professions of others. They have never treated bus drivers as people serving citizens professionally. In recent years, there have been cases from time to time in which netizens posted footage depicting arguments between passengers and drivers on the internet. While it is not easy to determine who was right and who was wrong, some passengers' disrespect for bus drivers and their use of uncalled-for verbal abuses and sarcastic comments are evident. After the Tai Po accident, some passengers said that the bus driver involved was blamed by some spiteful passengers for delays. Bus drivers must stay calm in all circumstances. They must not forget to drive carefully just because they are angry or have a rush of blood to their heads. That said, some people's lack of respect for bus drivers should also be corrected.