SINGAPORE - The rate and number of accidents at Bukit Batok bus interchange - where two buses collided this month - are "not too different" from statistics seen across the bus transport sector, Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat said on Monday (July 26).
A total of 148 accidents involving buses were reported in Singapore between January and May this year, he said, compared with 270 in the same period in 2017. The accident rate has also dipped from 0.15 cases per 100,000km travelled in 2017 to 0.10 this year.
"The number of accidents involving public buses, not just in bus interchanges but across different settings, has been falling steadily. The average yearly accident rate for our public buses has (also) been on a downward trend over the last few years," Mr Chee said in Parliament.
He added that these accidents are usually caused by human factors, such as a failure to keep a proper lookout or give way to traffic with right of way, although he stopped short of attributing blame in the latest incident.
"Investigations are ongoing so I do not want to go into the details of causes and the accountability of different parties. We let the investigation take its natural course."
On July 11, two Tower Transit buses, both plying the feeder service route 945, collided at Bukit Batok bus interchange. One of them, with passengers, ended up on its side.
A total of 14 people were taken to hospital. A bus driver was arrested and suspended from active duty.
The accident is believed to have occurred when a bus making a turn collided with one entering the interchange. The second bus then smashed through a low fence before landing 2m below on a ramp that serves as an entry and exit point for buses.
In Parliament on Monday, Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), in whose constituency the interchange is located, asked if the Land Transport Authority (LTA) would consider relooking its design.
The interchange was built around 1987, he said, and buses have since become bigger. "There may be a need to provide for sufficient safety margins and also extra safety measures to ensure that, should something untoward happen, at least there's some structures in place to make sure that pedestrians, commuters and bus captains' lives are not affected."
He was joined by Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), who also expressed concern about the incident. Dr Tan asked if drivers were more prone to accidents nearer the end of their shifts, while Mr Saktiandi asked if more can be done to educate pedestrians and others on safety within and outside bus interchanges.
Mr Chee stressed that safety is a key priority for the government and public transport operators.
Structural safeguards are in place to ensure bus interchanges are safe, he added.
LTA makes sure buses and passengers can move around the interchange safely before opening bus interchanges to the public. There is also a speed limit of 15kmh within the interchange and systems on board buses monitor drivers and proactively identify those who require refresher training.
But he added that safe driving is "ultimately the most important", noting that all four bus operators have in place continual safety training for bus drivers and have strict disciplinary procedures for those who err.
"No matter how much infrastructure we put in, if it's due to human error, infrastructure cannot completely take that away," he said.
Later, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng added to his point, in answer to Ms Joan Pereira's (Tanjong Pagar GRC) question about the types of training available to drivers of heavy vehicles.
He said the operators continue to conduct refresher courses and safety briefings for bus drivers even after they are deployed. "Bus captains who exhibit high-risk driving behaviour are identified and promptly sent for corrective training," he said.