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Bus driver's life

By: Nguy Ha Posted: November-04-2009 in
Nguy Ha

Though everyone complains about the red and yellow buses barrelling down the centre of the road at peak hour, often oblivious to traffic and pedestrians, spare a thought for the men at the wheel.

35 year old Nguyen Ngoc Bau and 47 year old Tran VanToan are drivers for Hanoi Bus a subsidiary company of Transportation Service Company (TRANSERCO) I meet them at a tea stall at the end of their shift. They call for a third glass of iced tea and light up Vinataba cigarettes, puffing plumes of blue smoke reminiscent of the clouds emitted by their buses. Their weary eyes, drawn faces, and sweat-stained shirts are ample evidence of a hard day at work. This is the probably the most relaxed it gets for the two.

No matter the weather, come hellishly hot May, freezing January or when the streets of Hanoi flood during the heavy rain of October, the buses and their drivers are expected to struggle on because they know that everyday, there are about 1 million passengers waiting for them, 900 buses, on 60 routes in Hanoi.

However, the quality of service is worth to be mentioned. “Last week, when I was waiting the number 28 bus at La Thanh street, there were two buses coming. But the first didn’t stop. The second one stopped for passengers get out then we had the chance to get in. But when I just stepped one feet to the bus, suddently it run. I had to yele to let the driver know then he gazed at me in a hostiled way. I really pissed off, I had to wait to this bus for 30 minutes in the rain and when I get in, It possibly made me fall down and the driver react in a very unciviled way. Then when they drive, they go fast then stop suddently make all people inside cram to the front ” passenger Nguyen Thanh Minh says.

“In rush hours, the buses do not only let smoke out, swing on the road but they also elbow others bus like motobikes. They even ignore the guide of transportation police because they think that theyre are prior vehicles. As the result, two or three buses make a cross line then no other transporatation can go through, which make the rush hour become worse”, witnesses Hoang van Thong complains. They are common complaints from users and people who have to bear the “hell buses” in Hanoi.” Hoang Anh Duc, a witness complains.
“Sometimes when we read the newspapers we see complaints about bus drivers. Our mistakes might be driving badly, or breaking the traffic laws, but it’s not really true that we’re deliberately reckless,” says Bau.

“They should see it from both sides. Because in many cases, the problem is not us, but other road users,” Toan insists.

“We don’t drive as fast as people think. In early morning, when the road is the most empty, we drive between 30 to 40 kilometres an hour. In rush hour, it drops to ten or 15. Plus we have to stop every 500 metres to a kilometre at bus stops,” continues Toan. “Each bus has a black box to record its activity, so people at the bus centre know what the bus is up to. If we do anything wrong, we can’t hide. We have to pay a fine, that’s why we try to provide as good a service as possible.”

Bau outlines a typical day: “We wake at 4 am and start at 5 am. Each route from the first to the last, takes about 45 to 60 minutes. We have a 10 minute break at the end of journey. But if the bus arrives just three minutes before its allotted stopping time at the end of the route, we’re fined as it means the driver has rushed his route. If it’s later then the scheduled time, we have no break.”

They work continuously from 5 am to 1 or 2 pm. “We don’t have time for lunch when we’re driving. When we finish, we come home for a late lunch with the family. If someone is too hungry, he can have some instant noodles but usually you have to add some ice to it to make it cold enough to get it down before fheading off the same route again,” Bau adds.

“Before the Hanoi Bus I worked as a long distance driver. I earned more, but it was an exhausting job. Now, I have a stable salary of about 3.5 million VND ($195) a month and have more time for my family. But this job isn’t easy at all.” Bau continues “There’re just too many motorbikes and they often flout traffic laws, or do crazy things like suddenly turning head on into a bus or driving into the side of us. You need total concentration. Looking at the side and rear view mirror is often as important as watching what’s in front of you.”

Passengers can be equally difficult. Bus drivers are accused of recklessly pulling over at bus stops without adequate warning or any use of indicators. When routes change due to Hanoi’s traffic jams, customers often spit or swear at the drivers. “We’re a bit like the daughter-in-law in most families, no matter what we do, it’s not good enough. People complain that we miss the stop and that they’re late for work.” Toan insists.

“Sometimes, people will indicate for us to stop, but then won’t board an empty bus because it doesn’t have air-con, the old 24 seat bus, then, when we’re about to move they’ll change their minds and try and board us as there are no other buses available.”

Bus drivers are susceptible to public pressure as complaints are but a hotline away. Toan shakes his head “Of course we don’t want a customer ringing the hotline to complain, because we end up having to pay a 300,000 VND ($16.7) fine, and then get demoted by a pay level, meaning you’ve lost another 600,000 VND ($33.4) that month.”

While the complaints about Hanoi bus drivers are many, few consider the position the bus drivers find themselves in. Bus timetables are rigidly outlined by the company with no reference to increased traffic during rush hour so perhaps it’s no surprise that some can employ some seat-of-the-pants style driving. Public ire might be better served by complaining to the bus company about inflexible timetabling and lack of additional buses many of which suffer from poor maintenance rather than the of people trying to get thousands of Hanoians to work every day.

Every job has its difficulties but few understand the drivers’. Life could be a lot easier for the average bus driver if the public were more understanding. “I probably get the most pleasure helping blind people. When we pick up blind students at Nguyen Dinh Chieu Secondary School on Lac Trung Street, they always line up and board without fuss. If we can arrange seats for them, they are happy. But if not, they don’t complain at all. When we are about to reach their stop, they move to the door to prepare to get out,” Toan sighs.

Despite the aggravation of a shift for a Hanoi bus driver Toan finishes by saying “We love our job. But it’d be even better if everyone was as well behaved as the blind students we transport every day.”

The quality of the bus, the stress of bus drivers can be solved by the company and their management. But they refused to answer all the questions. When I come to Hanoi Bus at 29 lac Trung Street to ask if I can meet their director, the administrative officer said that they have no rights to answer the press. Then they ask me to come to the parent company, TRANSERCO at 5 Le Thanh Tong Street. When I ring TRANSERCO, they passed me to talk with PR department. The PR officer asked me to send them the questions via email. I sent, I waited but no reply from them.

Read more articles by Nguy Ha

user avatar Anonymous

Hanoi bus or the Evil of street

I worked for Transerco from 2002 to 2007, and I recognize that it's really a family company. Transerco mainly specializes in transportation sector, however bus is top priority . Transerco has 4 bus enterprise (subsidiary), each of them is in charge of each enterprise-owned route. Company has 4 stupid Vice General Directors who has no capability and talentless, that is reason why Hanoi bus service is going down quickly. Corruption, bribery, weak management and brain-drain is also main causes of tumbledown.

When bus causes deadly accident, one of 4 stupid Vice General Directors said "I think the number of deadly accident is still low". Unbelievable, one of the head of company can address such stupid sentences. Now on the streets, people trying to steer clear of bus because of heavy smoke, noisy whistle and the conduct of drives and conductors.


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