The public was outraged by news reports last week that a bus driver and his assistant attacked a passenger and tried to force him to kneel down before letting him off the bus.
This is not the first case of brutal misconduct by bus workers, and like previous cases, the driver and the assistant have received punishments for their doings: being fired and facing charges of "humiliating others" and "abuse of power."
However, it should be noted that the assault and battery occurred just after Transport Minister Dinh La Thang appealed to the Vietnamese people to use buses in an effort to lessen current traffic problems. At the heart of Thang's appeal was the fact that he had been riding buses incognito for weeks and assured the public that all bus services were almost satisfactory.
The recent beating comes at a crucial time as the people debate whether riding buses notorious for their poor services is the viable option their government tells them it is, and the incident should not be taken lightly by officials with a stake in solving the country's traffic problems.
For years, officials have been asking people to ride buses but they've invested little in improving the system. In Ho Chi Minh City, up to seven million bus seats are left vacant every year. And, despite the fact that the government doled out more than VND1 trillion (US$47.7 million) in bus company subsidies this year, only those with no other choice namely students and the poor seem to ride them.
Well, why would anyone want to ride a bus if they know they will very likely be mistreated on board? From general rudeness, to endangering passengers by not fully stopping to let people on and off, to fights and beatings like the one last week, our buses are not notorious without reason. Also infamous are the numerous cases of petty crime, pick pocketing, theft, robbery and drug use on buses. And then there's insane, unsafe driving on the part of bus drivers, for whom the horn seems to be an involuntary muscle.
Vietnamese officials want to restrict personal vehicles and develop public transport. However, until they gain people's trust in the quality of services buses provide that is, until people no longer fear bus drivers and other staff the long-discussed goal of curbing traffic congestion will remain a pipe dream.
Start by training bus staff properly and then upgrade infrastructure. Only when people trust our bus system should we consider limiting the circulation of personal vehicles.