Hong Kong will cancel a spectacular annual fireworks show on the second day of Chinese New Year on Saturday out of respect for those killed in the worst bus crash the city has seen in 15 years.
The official flags of the Hong Kong Special Administration will also fly at half-mast out of respect for the 19 people who died when a Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) double-decker crashed in Tai Po district late on Saturday.
"In the last two days, we've heard from various quarters … suggesting that in order to pay respect to the deceased and the victims and for the community to express their grief, it was not very appropriate to continue with the Chinese New Year fireworks on the second day of the Lunar New Year,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters on Monday.
Meanwhile, a bitter row has erupted between operators KMB and the drivers’ union over allegations of inadequate driver training.
Lai Siu-chung, deputy director of the Motor Transport Workers General Union’s KMB branch, said KMB should bear some of the responsibility for fatal crash for failing to provide drivers learning new routes with adequate training.
“They neglect the training of workforce on the front line … There is currently no instructor who goes with the bus to tell them about problems specific to that route,” Lai told a news conference. “The driver is just given a piece of paper and expected to follow it.”
“Management said [on Saturday] that training is given, but I can tell you that the company is blatantly lying about that,” he said.
Few rest periods
Ringo Lee, chairman of the Institute of the Motor Industry, agreed, saying that the accident took place as the driver took a bend on a section of the Tai Po highway where the speed-limit is 70 kilometres/hour.
The union has also said KMB faces a shortage of drivers owing to low pay, leaving those on duty with not enough rest periods.
KMB said it will complete within a week an internal investigation into the accident, which led to the arrest of its driver for causing grievous bodily harm and death through dangerous driving, local media reported.
The company has also promised to review its current routes, staffing arrangements, and safety protocols in the wake of the crash, which left six people still in critical condition and seven in a “serious”
condition on Monday.
Fireworks sponsors the Chevalier Group said it would donate money saved by the cancellation to the families of crash victims. One-minute silences are also planned across the city to mourn the accident.
KMB depot general manager Patrick Pang appeared to suggest that the driver was to blame.
“This driver has a previous conviction for driving without due care and attention dating back to August 2018,” Pang told reporters. “According to our records, he was convicted in court.”
He was allowed back to work following an assessment by the company, Pang said.
The No. 872 double-decker bus flipped over onto its side on the winding and hilly route between Tai Po and Shatin racecourse on Saturday night.
The crash was the worst since 2003, when 21 people died after a bus plunged off a flyover, government broadcaster RTHK reported. It said 18 people were also killed in a bus crash on a traffic roundabout in 2008.
It quoted Godwin So, KMB's general manager in charge of corporate planning and business development, as saying that the company was “deeply sorry” for the accident.
“We will form a committee that will be led by our independent non-executive directors to investigate the accident," So told the station.
Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.