Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Govt must keep public buses safe

By Ma Liang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-15 07:43

Also, regular fire drills should be organized to train passengers how to break through emergency exits and get out of a bus that has caught fire, which can greatly reduce the loss of lives.

Compared with the bus fires in Guiyang (6 deaths and 35 injuries in 2014), Xiamen, Fujian province (47 deaths and 34 injuries in 2013) and Chengdu, Sichuan province, (27 deaths and 74 injuries in 2009), the Hangzhou incident was handled much more successfully largely because of the prompt actions taken by the driver and passengers. Witnesses and firefighters, too, played a vital role in minimizing the damage.

The government, however, should order a thorough investigation into the Hangzhou bus fire and use its results to suitably adjust its future rules for public transport safety. For instance, after a bus fire in Texas killed 24 people in 2005, the US National Transportation Safety Board held a public hearing the next year to find out how best it could prevent such incidents.

Over the past two decades, public bus services in many cities have been privatized to reduce losses. But private transport operators, whose sole motive is to make maximum profits, usually ignore bus safety regulations. Due to the volatility of franchise contracts, operators have little incentive to invest in the industry (that is, purchase new buses and install expensive safety mechanisms).

Since public buses are generally overcrowded, it is difficult to evacuate passengers in emergencies such as a fire. The results of privatizing public transport systems, especially bus services, around the world are mixed and inconclusive. So local urban authorities should pay greater attention to public good before privatizing transport systems.

As a country in transition, China faces many challenges and threats, including those from terrorists. Social inequity is believed to be one of the primary sources of social problems. Vulnerable people deprived of social welfare benefits are more liable to desperation, and in their frenzy they could even torch buses. Therefore, the government should take measures to reduce social inequality and ensure that everyone gets to share the benefits of the country's economic development, because that will reduce social risks. Also, a safety net should be built to help disadvantaged social groups and prevent them from taking desperate actions that endanger innocent people's lives.

The author is a research fellow at Nanyang Centre for Public Administration, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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