LegCo Panel on Education
Safety Provisions of School Transport
Following several accidents involving school transport, the Government decided to introduce an improvement package to enhance school transport safety. This paper sets out the latest position.
2. In 1995, a working group consisting of representatives from Transport Department, Education Department and the Police, carried out a public consultation exercise on school transport services.
3. Out of 29,000 questionnaires distributed, 11,900 were completed and returned to Transport and Education Departments. The majority of respondents, mainly parents and schools, indicated their preference for compulsory provision of escorts on buses carrying primary and kindergarten pupils. They also favoured the mandatory installation of additional safety devices on school buses, as well as the setting up of School Bus Service Committees in primary schools and kindergartens.
4. In May 1996, the LegCo Panel on Transport was informed of the results of the consultation exercise, and the improvement measures proposed by the working group in the light of the majority views received. These measures include:
- mandatory provision of an escort on a school bus (which has 17 to 55 seats or more) carrying primary and kindergarten pupils,
- tighter licensing conditions for "nanny vans", for which annual approval to operate such service has to be sought from Transport Department;
- mandatory installation of safety warning devices on doors of vehicles used for school transport;
- mandatory installation of an on-vehicle public announcement system to enable drivers and escorts to communicate with passengers;
- a "Caution: Children" sign at the rear of school buses for primary and kindergarten pupils, so as to alert other motorists;
- a more catching colour scheme for "nanny vans" (i.e. light vans with 8 to 16 seats) to alert other motorists;
- to encourage the setting up of School Bus Service Committees in all primary schools and kindergartens (being pursued by the Education Department); and
- to pursue with Housing Department the designation of stops for school buses in public housing estates.
5. In May 1996, having conducted a death inquiry on a school boy killed in July 1995 while alighting from a school bus, the coroner returned a verdict with riders that all buses and light buses should be installed with an external rear view mirror of sufficient size at the near front side of vehicles, so as to give drivers a clear view of passengers alighting. He also recommended to install door warning devices to all buses and light buses. The Administration accepted the recommendations and incorporated them into the improvement package.
6. The operators are agreeable to tightening licensing conditions for "nanny vans" and installation of safety devices, public announcement system and a "Caution: Children" sign. However, they object to mandatory provision of escorts on school buses and the new colour scheme for nanny vans. The Motor Transport Workers General Union and the Private Hire Car for Young Children Association recently formed an alliance to object to these measures.
The proposed scheme is :-
- From 1 February 1997, a school bus carrying primary and kindergarten pupils is required, as a new licensing condition in the Passenger Service Licence (PSL), to provide an escort on board.
- Starting from this same date, on applying for a PSL to provide a school bus service for primary and kindergarten pupils, an operator is required to supply to Transport Department a declaration of provision of escort in a prescribed form together with Hong Kong Identity Card number of the escort, for record purpose.
8. Some operators worry that mandatory provision of escort would drastically inflate their operational costs, and that the requirement would pose practical problems. They were concerned that school transport service would be disrupted if escorts fail to turn up. They favour a voluntary scheme instead.
9. On the other hand, there is wide support from parents for such a plan. Our views are:
- The trades concern about operational difficulties due to the absence of escort at short notice may be overcome if operators draw up a list of persons who could help out in such a situation.
- The requirement for escort is a licensing condition. If breach of the condition is involved, Transport Department will carry out the necessary investigation and take account of the explanation provided by the concerned operator and the merits of the case before invoking sanctions. Appeal against decision is also allowed.
10. Regarding costs, since school bus fares vary according to distance travelled, type of bus used and quality of service provided (e.g. air-conditioning), it is difficult to assess the additional costs involved. It is understood from existing services which are providing escorts that the additional costs vary between $50 and $150 per person per month. Starting from September 1996, about 1080 school buses have already been provided with escorts.
11. Some operators also claim that, if the Administration is determined to make such a measure mandatory, this should be achieved through legislative means, rather than as a licensing condition. The Administration has explained to the trade that the alternative of legislation will involve court hearing, thus rendering the enforcement of the measure less flexible. Notwithstanding, the Administration has undertaken to further consider this alternative means.
12. At present, nanny vans are required to bear on the outside of the vehicle a continuous, horizontal yellow stripe against which the words "School Private Light Bus" and the characters should be written in a contrasting colour and of uniform size (illustration at Annex A). Nevertheless, neither the body colour nor the colour of the letters is specified. In fact, the body of some nanny vans has been painted in a variety of colours.
13. It is the Administrations view that a brighter and standardised colour scheme is useful in alerting road users of young children boarding and alighting. The proposed new colour scheme, comprising of a purple waist band against a yellow body (illustration at Annex B), is considered to be more conspicuous, and thus better in road safety terms. Nevertheless, some operators are concerned about the costs incurred. It is said that the repainting costs per nanny van range from $5,000 to $12,000 per vehicle. The operators suggest that, instead of introducing a fresh colour scheme, strengthening and standardising the existing one would also serve the intended purpose. They also suggest that, if the new colour scheme proposed by the Government is to be adopted, it should be implemented by stages, as and when new vans are acquired, or when existing ones are repainted.
14. The Administration is maintaining a dialogue with the trade. A programme of replacement based on natural phasing out is agreeable in principle. We will work out a realistic, reasonable and effective implementation framework with the trade.
15. Some operators opined that restricted zones introduced on traffic management grounds should be relaxed for school buses. Transport Department considers that blanket relaxation can adversely affect road safety and transport management. Hence, it will consider individual application and give approval on the basis of merits.
16. Transport Department has been pursuing with Housing Department to designate stops for school buses within public housing estates. In Ap Lei Chau Estate and Chuk Yuen Estate, stops have been provided. Similar provisions are being worked out for Wah Kwei Estate, Kai Yip Estate and Upper Wong Tai Sin Estate.
Last Updated on 14 August 1998