by Hai Van
Two weeks after a passenger was brutally beaten up on a bus in Ha Noi, city mayor Nguyen The Thao on Tuesday ordered the Ha Noi Transport Service Corporation (Transerco) to take serious action against violent drivers and conductors.
What a relief! The city leader finally made himself accountable to the public by responding directly to the case. More impressively, it was the first time a senior official linked the work ethics of bus drivers and conductors to people turning away from the bus service and called for an immediate improvement.
Previously, most debates on ways to encourage people to use public transport blamed poor road infrastructure and the poor quality of the bus fleet as the main causes of its unpopularity.
Yet, it's not difficult to see Thao's ideas as "easier said than done".
After all, the case two weeks ago was not the first time a bus passenger was attacked and it would be silly to believe it would be the last.
Why would people choose to ride a bus? Every now and then, they have to see on the media a bloody face just like that of 34-year-old passenger Kim Van Chung who had to get 20 stitches for deep cuts near his eyes after the attack on March 28. Not to mention buses in Viet Nam have been notorious for poor punctuality, wanton skips of regular stops and a high rate of pick-pockets.
It seems it will be a long time before buses become a popular means of transport in Viet Nam, no matter how enthusiastic Transport Minister Dinh La Thang campaigned for it by riding a bus to work himself more regularly four months ago.
The attack on passenger Chung pointed out just how easy and simple one could fall victim to violence on the bus.
Chung told Lang Ha Ward police in Ha Noi that he was attempting to get off the bus at his intended stop when finding himself suddenly hit and stuck between the two automatic doors. Startled by such careless treatment by the driver, Chung angrily questioned the motive of the rude act.
Yet instead of receiving an apology, the ticket conductor immediately came over and punched Chung in the face before violently pushing him out of the bus. The driver subsequently joined in the attack before police were called in.
The attackers later admitted to police that they lost control on hearing the passenger blame them for poorly operating the doors.
The case reminded the public of a similar attack last October, also in Ha Noi. A male passenger was beaten up by both bus driver and ticket conductor because he wanted to get off after finding himself on the wrong bus.
Worse, the attackers refused to let him go unless he begged them on his knees. The poor passenger could not stand the humiliation and was given another shower of blows before some brave passengers intervened and threatened to call the police.
Stories of cruel bus drivers and conductors seem too many to forget and some may recall the case four years ago when a female passenger was given a really bad thrashing on the bus she was riding. The woman had to go through several surgeries to save her life due to her spleen being completely crushed. She was attacked because she refused to pay extra for an addition to her ticket.
Transerco, which manages the bus system in Ha Noi, said in the first 10 months of 2011, the company fired 183 staff, many of whom were drivers and conductors, for bad behaviour.
In a survey released last November by Dan Tri (People's General Knowledge) news website, 84,865 respondents out of 90,449 surveyed on-line, accounting for 94 per cent, believed that the bus service in Viet Nam fell short of people's expectations and that commuting by bus was not a good choice.
Yet, why are responsible people not getting serious about it?
Most public transport development projects currently focus on expanding the bus fleet and improve road infrastructure, ignoring better pay and work ethics training.
In the meeting on Tuesday with Transerco, Mayor Thao pledged to prioritise new buses to suit streets in Ha Noi this year and offered to subsidise interest on loans taken out to buy quality vehicles.
A two year public transport development project approved by Ha Noi last month includes investing a French grant of VND35billion (US$1.66 million) in upgrading roads and buying quality buses.
Why not spend part of the money on ethics improvement schemes for drivers and conductors?
The comprehensive public transport development plan by 2020 adopted last month by Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai also overlooked the ethics issue.
Curbing the ever-increasing traffic jams by encouraging people to use buses is no doubt the right direction for the Government to head in.
But they need to see that quality buses, nicer roads and even cheaper prices are not sufficient to win over new passengers as long as violence remains an issue. — VNS