Stiff penalties for abusing bus drivers: Chee Hong Tat

The abuse of public transport workers is "wrong and unacceptable", and those who do it will face the full force of the law, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat yesterday.

The punishment can include up to three years in jail when convicted of voluntarily causing hurt.

In a speech in Parliament, Mr Chee strongly condemned the recent cases of commuters who verbally and physically abused bus drivers. He called for a "right societal culture, one that is based on respect for our front-line workers".

He said: "What we need is to take a clear stand. The Government, unions, public transport operators, and I would say the great majority of Singaporeans are united in taking a zero-tolerance approach towards such abusive behaviours."

His warning comes amid a rise in cases of verbal and physical abuse of bus drivers by commuters who did not wear a mask, which is mandatory.

He issued it when replying to Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, who had asked if more could be done by the Transport Ministry to protect bus drivers and other transport service staff.

Mr Chee said the ministry is already working with transport operators and the unions to better protect drivers, and welcomed Mr Saktiandi's more specific suggestions, noting that ultimately, a collective effort from all involved - including commuters - is what is needed.

The seriousness of the egregious trend has also led the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) to revive an idea floated two years ago of installing a plastic shield around the bus driver's seat as protection against unruly commuters.

The union is testing possible models now. MP and NTWU executive secretary Melvin Yong asked Mr Chee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, if the Land Transport Authority would support such a move on all public buses if a suitable model were found.

ZERO TOLERANCE

What we need is to take a clear stand. The Government, unions, public transport operators, and I would say the great majority of Singaporeans are united in taking a zero-tolerance approach towards such abusive behaviours.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT CHEE HONG TAT

Mr Chee said feedback would have to be sought from the bus drivers, as a similar trial in 2018 found that the shields created glare which affected their driving. "Ultimately, this is for both the protection and safety of the bus captains, and also for the safety of commuters," he added.

Clement Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2020, with the headline 'Stiff penalties for abusing bus drivers: Chee Hong Tat'. Print Edition | Subscribe