Bus operators should not be kept waiting indefinitely

By YS Chan


LAST Thursday, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong had a meeting with the Pan Malaysia Bus Operators Association in Putrajaya and later posted in his Facebook that among the proposals being worked on is amending the rules for executive-class express bus service.

The next day, he launched the 2021 annual general meeting of the Association of Tour Bus Operators of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and announced that the age limit for Bas Persiaran (excursion bus) could be extended from 11 to 15 years if stipulated conditions are met.

Although these headways are welcomed by bus operators, they are only the tip of an iceberg. Nevertheless, these are steps in the right direction and many issues are still pending. Sadly, the powers that be are largely responsible for most of the problems besieging the transport industry.

The authorities should realise that the most accurate barometer of their performance is measured by the health of the industry and not by their own key performance indicator. Their roles are not only to regulate but also to facilitate. They ought to hinder less and help more.

The multitude of antiquated rules and regulations have been stifling, yet they could easily be modernised by the Ministry of Transport (MOT), more so after the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) was replaced by the Land Public Transport Agency (APAD) in 2018.

For many years, various associations representing lorry, bus, taxi and car rental companies have been submitting proposals to MOT, SPAD, and later APAD. Proposals that were sound ought to have been implemented, and those rejected should have the rationale made known.

Often, transport associations were stonewalled and industry players unable to decide based on informed decision. They should not be left hanging or clinging to false hope. Sadly, the cycles of submitting proposals and waiting for answers have been repeated for umpteenth years.

Whenever meetings or forums were held, industry players had been vocal with their frustrations and these were noted by government officials present but remained non-committal as usual. The same unresolved issues would then be brought up again and again in subsequent gatherings.

But MOT must be proactive in gathering industry problems and ought to know issues plaguing transport operators. Meetings should be used for seeking clarifications or working out practical solutions.

For example, the Interim Stage Bus Support Fund was established to compensate stage bus operators for running social services along unprofitable routes but have caused them hardships whenever payments due were delayed indefinitely and finally paid out many months later.

As for express buses, the last fare revision was 12 years ago back in 2009. Although taxi fares were increased in 2015, it came after Uber entered the Malaysian market in 2014, and MyTeksi morphed into GrabCar when taxi passengers started switching to cheaper private cars in droves.

As for express bus fares, only the budget-class service needs to be fixed to ensure affordability. Premier services should be left to individual operators to decide on the level of service they wish to offer with corresponding fares, and passengers would benefit from keen competition.

Mercifully, there had been no attempt to fix charter rates for Bas Persiaran ever since the first tour buses (BM 9070 & BM 9429) were introduced in 1965. They were micro buses with a diesel engine in front and a petrol engine at the rear to run the compressor for air-conditioning.

If ancient buses could be running for so long and mostly on trunk roads, modern buses of today could easily be used for more than 20 years if properly maintained. Hence, the age limit for Bas Persiaran should not be limited to 15 years when its lifespan could easily be 30 to 40 years.

This assertion is all the more valid as most tour buses have been grounded since March last year and will remain mostly idle until local tourism recovers in 2024, as announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin last July.

Furthermore, we may have to wait until 2029 for tourist arrivals to return to 2019 levels and this would mean almost a decade of very low utilisation. Therefore, it would be most unfair to force tour bus operators to dispose their vehicles before they could recoup their investment.

Raising the age limit from 15 to 20 years would immediately increase the resale value of existing tour buses, which is necessary as many are worth a little more than scrap metal if not bought by Bas Pekerja or Bas Sekolah operators that will use them for another 10 to 20 years.

According to the late George Woo who was a tour bus operator and active in the travel industry, we seemed to value the lives of tourists more than our schoolchildren. This is because we deemed older tour buses as unsafe for visitors but found them to be safe for our kids.

Instead of arguing until the cows come home, the decision should be determined by the official body appointed to decide on such matters, and that is Puspakom, which was established in 1994 to conduct computerised vehicle inspections and certify roadworthiness.

Regardless of whether a tour bus is two or 20 years old, it should be taken off the road if it fails vehicle inspection at Puspakom.

Road transport operations and regulations are not rocket science that requires great expertise and industry players are ready with solutions that could benefit all stakeholders. In the past, bureaucracy was aplenty but political will lacking. Hopefully, the long wait will be over soon. – April 15, 2021


YS Chan is Asean Tourism Master Trainer for travel agencies, master trainer for Travel & Tours Enhancement Course and Mesra Malaysia (both programmes under Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture). He is also a tourism and transport industry consultant and writer.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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