How many of us choked on our Weeties yesterday morning?
Raising concerns about the quality of bus services and in particular, drivers’ skills in the legislative assembly yesterday, Mak Soi Kun was reminded – and by extension are we – that “the government has repeatedly emphasized that it pays close attention to bus drivers’ technical abilities and experience”.
Not closely enough. The question to ask is how many in the government pay close enough attention to ride those buses along with the rest of us?
Many years ago my elderly father came to visit us in Macau at the age of 88 – an auspicious age. He was a man of broad and long experience: he had early memories of seeing the Zeppelin over London, measured Winston Churchill’s feet for a pair of custom-fit shoe-lasts, almost purchased a cottage in a Sri Lankan tea plantation in his 60s, and swore that he saved Grand Marnier for the world as he led the allied troops to liberate the town in which the Lapostolle family produced the gorgeous drop. So, he was not daunted about walking Macau’s streets and eating at local coffee shops. A past master at the art of frugal hedonism, he knew that local experiences are to be savoured among the local population. Casinos held little interest and were not the main attraction in Macau in those days, and so opportunities to ride the buses were not to be passed up.
To that point, bus rides had been uneventful experiences for me. An elderly visitor would surely have no problem. I had not banked upon my father’s British sense of decorum getting in the way. He doggedly refused to sit and let any lady in his presence stand, so by the time we arrived at Lou Lim Ieoc Garden he was understandably rattled and took a little longer alighting than is the norm. Not hearing a word of me standing back for him to go first, I hadn’t the opportunity to control the bus driver who took off with the poor man’s hand still jammed in the door handle. Dad managed to extricate said hand, but the process left a gash in his thin, aging skin, and a scar on my trust in local drivers.
I still wonder whether it was mere driver carelessness or callous intent.
My trust in the professionalism of Macau bus drivers has continued to be eroded over the years. There are too many dangerous habits: corners taken too quickly, breaking and taking off too fast, drivers using mobile phones. On rainy days, some drivers appear to take a mean-spirited joy in splashing pedestrians with gutter puddles.
It is as if the job is just about the mechanics rather than about people and customer service. We have seen hardware and infrastructure improvements such as the Macau-Pass, the bus-bus interchange concessions, the free bus Wifi, clearer route information posted inside the buses, single-direction bus lanes, bus frequency, and relocation of bus stops. We do not however hear many details of investment in the software; the drivers.
The bus companies do promote driver safety training. Safety is after all a fundamental operational matter. But in a tourist destination as Macau is supposed to be, operations cannot be only about safety. It must include extended customer service elements of comfort, interaction and care. Drivers are the face of their companies and of Macau, thus pride in company and regional brand is to be encouraged.
The goals can be set higher, beyond the technicalities of operational excellence. How many drivers say hello? How many are personable? Have you ever heard any sing? Through organisational cultural shift we would see improvements, and with the bar set higher, safety will become the base level norm, and customer care and service new and happier foci.