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July 25, 2011

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Stress killing city's older bus drivers

THE sudden deaths of eight city bus drivers behind the wheel in the past two years has revealed the problem of an aging and stressed workforce, officials said yesterday.

Pressure of work is putting the lives of older drivers at risk, while younger people are not interested in the job, said bus company officials.

A 58-year-old bus driver, Zhu Delong, died on Friday morning last week of a heart attack while driving a No. 738 bus in Putuo District.

Zhu was hailed a hero for managing to bring his bus to a halt during the last minutes of his life.

In the previous fatality, on November 16 last year, a veteran bus driver died of a brain hemorrhage while driving.

Visual impairment, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are common among older city bus drivers, said an official surnamed He with the Shanghai Bashi Transportation Group Co.

Research by the bus company found 2,337 drivers - some 8 percent of the 28,428 bus drivers across the city - are older than 55.

The research showed that among 465 drivers older than 55, 81 percent suffer from various ailments, while 68.1 percent want to retire before they reach 60, the required age for retirement.

"The aging problem is a challenge," said He.

"Young people are not willing to join because of the low pay, low social status and hardships."

A Shanghai bus driver is paid 58,000 yuan (US$ 8,990) a year before tax - an increase from 46,000 yuan last year.

But with inflation soaring, young people want more, said He.

You Jinchun, a 52-year-old bus driver and colleague of Zhu, said some young people recruited would quit the job after a day or two.

"They just couldn't stand the boring routine, strict regulations and tough work patterns," said You.

"Most bus drivers work shifts, which means they sometimes have to start work at 5am."

You said he had to drive around the city three times in eight hours every day. He said he was often stressed by traffic jams and loud traffic noise during rush hour.

This anxiety could trigger the health problems that have killed drivers such as Zhu, You said.

Shanghai Bashi paid Zhu's family a 70,000 yuan reward for the driver's actions and the company is looking to improve the welfare of older drivers and attract new blood, said He.

He said drivers would receive health checks every year instead of every two years at present and salaries will be increased in a bid to attract young people.


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