In view of the continuing accidents and mounting fatalities involving express buses, it is time to consider something new. The authorities have over the years implemented everything reasonably possible to reduce the accidents but to no avail as the Genting and Pagoh accidents that killed 37 and 14 passengers respectively indicate. Daily, hundreds of express buses ply the trunk roads and highways but are not involved in crashes.
However, when a serious accident occurs causing multiple casualties or fatalities, it becomes a matter of great concern. If these accidents keep repeating endlessly, then something novel needs to be tried to overcome the problem.
It will be better if a large number of foreign workers who have driving experience or could be trained to handle express buses are employed as express bus drivers. Foreign drivers within the 25 -40 years age group would be ideal. Foreign drivers, I have observed, are more diligent, disciplined and law-abiding and mostly do not possess negative habits such as texting, drug-taking,drinking, etc while on duty.
Selected foreign drivers would make an ideal choice for replacing the worrying indiscipline and negative attitude of local express bus drivers. One should not look at this solution as depriving Malaysians of work. There are plenty of alternative jobs for the local drivers. Express buses with about 40 -50 passengers need to be handled safely and it is unlike driving a truck or a trailer.
Another choice will be local women drivers who can be as good as the foreign drivers as they, too, have the qualities of discipline and cautious driving. Express bus firms face indisciplined drivers daily and cannot berate them harshly as they fear the drivers leaving their jobs and placing the company in a quandary.
It is also time to consider these horrible accidents as a catalyst to overcome the outdated ‘commission’ system. A better remunerative scheme could bring in better quality drivers who value a stable monthly income, unlike the fluctuating salaries under the commission mode of payment, which attracts only temporary drivers.
Another welcome change should be a scheduled eight-hour shift system that does not over-burden the driver. Drivers should not be made to work more than one shift even if they are willing as they need to be cautious and alert when on the road as driving an express bus on the sometimes congested roads could be stressful and taxing.
Despite the expected opposition of the express bus companies, the government needs to act firmly and drastically to overhaul the remunerative and work system to reflect the changing times that ensure better protection for the drivers and of course the passengers. At one time buses were regarded as a safer mode for outstation travel, but can we say that now?