Bus drivers should always “work to rule” says consultant and former bus company executive Alok Jain in response to a online call for a work-to-rule protest at a bus driver’s arrest last Sunday.
“There should not be any situation where the driver is not working to rule,” says Jain, who says bus companies often turn a blind eye to dangerous practices simply to avoid embarrassing the government over police inaction on matters such as private cars blocking bus stops.
“I know that companies sometimes make drivers do things in the name of flexibility but I have always considered that to be a dangerous practice because it’s a slippery slope,” he says.
Jain gives the example of drivers stopping in the middle of the road when illegal parking blocks a bus stop. “The company is being expedient in stopping in the middle of the road and letting people get off, they say they are trying to serve the passengers but if you look at it from a longer term perspective, you are turning a blind eye to inaction by the police, who don’t enforce [bus stop parking] and you are putting the passengers and the vehicle at risk.”
Jain’s comments come as a bus driver arrest drama has stirred up anger and controversy from many in the bus industry.
Police arrested a 37-year-old NWFB driver of the 970 bus after he beeped his horn at them three times while passing a protest site on Nathan Road in Yau Ma Tei on Sunday (6 September). In a police live-stream, police said the driver’s action was provocative as he drove past with “unreasonable honking” which affected the work of the police and stirred up a crowd police had held for a stop and search operation. When police searched the driver they found a small adjustable spanner, which they claimed was an offensive weapon.
Bus Industry Union (BIU)*, an organisation which claims around 100 members, has called for industrial action unless police address its complaints over the arrest of the driver. “We will suggest all our members and other bus labour union members to drive at a ‘safe speed’ as police say the NWFB driver under 30 kph is ‘Dangerous Driving’,” a BIU spokesman told Transit Jam.
The chairman of major union New World First Bus Company Staff Union (NWFBCSU) Lam Kam-piu, says black box data from the bus shows the driver was driving safely. The bus was travelling at around 30 kph, he says, in a 50kph limit, when the bus was flagged down by police.
Bus industry insiders have also defended the driver’s possession of the small spanner: bus drivers often carry small spanners to work around the bus, for example adjusting the heavy wing mirrors which are secured by 14mm nuts.
The bus in question, an Alexander Dennis Enviro500, licence plate TR7971, indeed has wing mirrors which need to be adjusted by a spanner. Lam himself says this is normal practice: “The company has not forbidden this practice, and bus drivers can borrow tools at the bus station too, for this purpose,” he says.
Alok Jain says the offensive weapon arrest is “ridiculous” and says spanners are as essential as first-aid kits. “You need that spanner to fix the rear- view mirrors. Just imagine a driver takes over a bus and finds the rear-view mirror angle is not correct and because there is no spanner they can’t fix it, so he or she will drive this bus to the depot, and during that driving they can’t use the rear view mirror. That is a dangerous situation,” he says.
Police say the driver has been released on bail and must report back to police in early October. He has not yet been formally charged, they say.
*Editor’s note: we could find no record of BIU’s formation as a Trade Union in the Gazette; the spokesman we contacted through its Facebook page would not give a name or confirm BIU’s foundation date; and BIU’s Facebook page has since been deleted. Outside of its original Facebook page and social media posters, there is no other record of BIU on any government directory, trade union listing or website.