Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Bus Tragedy Shakes HK's Core

Last Saturday night rescuers tried to get passengers out of the wreckage
A tragic bus accident on Saturday evening left 19 dead and over 60 injured, prompting the city to lower flags at half mast today and to scale down activities for the upcoming Lunar New Year.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has canceled the Chinese New Year fireworks that would have been held on Saturday, a week after the accident. It is believed on the seventh day after death that the dead person's spirit returns home for a final farewell with loved ones.

Around 6pm on last Saturday, a full KMB bus traveling from Sha Tin race course to Tai Po suddenly swerved out of control and flipped on its side while making a turn near Tai Po Mei on Tai Po Road.

Some passengers on the bus say the bus driver was frustrated because people complained the bus was 10 minutes late, and so to make up for the time, he drove the bus at a much higher speed that may have caused the crash.

The 30-year-old bus driver Chan Ho-ming has been remanded in custody facing a charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

Families of the dead observing Buddhist rites at the site
Many members of the public went to the Red Cross centres to donate blood -- some waiting hours to do a good deed, while others donated money, over HK$42.5 million to give to the 84 families affected. There will also be a judge-led inquiry into the incident.

But there were many warning signs before. Bus driver unions have said before that bus companies are not doing paying drivers better salaries, there are too many part-time drivers, and they don't have enough rest time between shifts.

There are calls for the government to do more the regulate the public transport system -- after all it is the one that makes the rules -- or is it too cozy with the tycoons that run these transport companies and so it has a laissez-faire attitude towards safety?

The government has the numbers: over the past 25 years the number of accidents involving public buses has risen dramatically from 1,404 in 1991 to 2,631 in 2016, while accidents involving other types of vehicles have shown a steady decline.

There's also the issue of more vehicles on the road. In 1991 there were 374,952 registered vehicles in Hong Kong, but by 2015, that figure almost doubled to 714,927. Meanwhile, the city's population has grown by almost a million since 1997, more of them in the middle and lower class, most likely to be taking the bus.

Carrie Lam (centre) visiting the injured in hospital
Does this mean the government doesn't care about what happens to people who take buses? Doesn't seem like it.

Senior officials will go through the gestures of being low-key in the next few days, not trying to show them enjoying themselves for Chinese New Year, and doing the right thing by cancelling the fireworks, but surely more needs to be done to fix the problem.

The issue is that a lot of Hong Kong people are stressed out. They are tired, in some cases hungry or not eating properly, depressed and angry. The pressures on them are becoming harder for them to bear. And yet the government continues to have an even bigger surplus and has no idea what to do with it.

That disconnect is shocking and outrageous.

We need a government that cares about the people, not just today, but tomorrow, five, 10, 15, 20 years down the line too.

The inability to make far-sighted decisions shows this government and effectively Beijing, do not put the priority on Hong Kong people. And that's what the Occupy protests were about in 2014.

The Umbrella Movement was about telling the government that the people were tired of flats being way beyond the reach of young people, about the lack of creating jobs and industries, and of not respecting local culture, instead kowtowing to Beijing.

In the end the calls for change fell on deaf ears and people were jailed and kicked out of the Legislative Council. It just shows the Hong Kong government really has no ideas; it doesn't even want to build bridges with the next generation, as shown by its shutting out of young people from running in the upcoming by-election.

But we digress. We mourn those who have lost their lives in this senseless tragedy and wonder if the authorities will really do something to reduce the number of bus accidents in the city. Our lives depend on it.

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