Friday 25 November 2011

Malaysian bus firms want govt to bail them out and nationalise sector

Malaysian bus firms threaten to stop services
Struggling operators in city and town areas want govt to bail them out and nationalise sector
By Lester Kong, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian bus companies are threatening to pull their buses off the street unless the government bails out their struggling operations, in a move that could leave hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded in the weeks ahead.

The Pan Malaysia Bus Operators Association, which groups 130 stage bus companies employing 4,000 workers across the country, wants the government to nationalise the bus service industry.

Stage buses are those that operate within town and city areas, as opposed to the more profitable express buses that ply the routes between cities.

The companies say that if nothing is done by the end of the month, they will park their buses as they are struggling to cope with spiralling operating costs.

'A total collapse of the bus system is imminent,' Datuk Ashfar Ali, president of the association, told The Straits Times. 'We want the government to acquire stage coach companies, their vehicles and workers at a price to be negotiated.'

Bus operators in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are in better financial shape because they ply densely populated routes. But those in all other states are in dire straits.

Falling passengers loads, along with soaring fuel and bus maintenance costs, have cut profitability for a number of years, said Mr Ashfar.

Raising fares is not an option as fares for both express and stage buses are government-controlled. Besides, if fares go up, the mostly lower-income passengers will likely make fewer bus journeys, leading to lower takings.

'Bus fares are a political hot potato,' Mr Ashfar said. 'If you raise the bus fares, there will be a hue and cry from the poorer section of society and the government cannot have that.'

Whenever a bus company applies for a permit to operate, it needs to commit to a fare structure and service frequency.

Subsidised diesel makes up about 45 per cent of every company's operating cost, after the price rose by 128 per cent in five years to RM1.48 (60 Singapore cents) a litre.

'Stage bus companies get 1,400 litres (of subsidised diesel) per bus per month. We need an average of 4,000 litres per bus per month to run,' said Mr Ashfar. Unsubsidised diesel sells at RM1.80 a litre.

Only two states - Negeri Sembilan and Penang - have managed to stave off potential boycotts by the bus operators by giving financial aid to a major bus company while they work on more permanent solutions.

The Negeri Sembilan state government is expected to pay between RM5 million and RM7 million a year to Konsortium Transnasional Berhad (KTB) for its services after signing an agreement on Monday.

Menteri Besar Mohamad Hasan said a special public transport fund would be set up to subsidise the services of KTB, which operates 1,500 buses nationwide.

KTB has announced that its Penang operations would continue until the end of the month, unless a long-term solution was found.

Mr Ashfar said bus companies in Kelantan, Kedah, Perak and Pahang have gone out of business.

Most bus companies are privately owned, except for RapidKL and Mara-operated buses, which are run by government-owned companies.

Operators of small bus companies, such as Mr Lim Meng Fei of Tampin in Negeri Sembilan, can only wait and hope for something to come up from discussions between the association and the government.

Mr Lim, who has been operating his family-owned Eng Giap Public Motor Bus Company since the 1940s, has suspended his 10-bus operations since Nov 1.

'We have only 10 buses but are losing RM20,000 a month,' he said. 'Diesel is a killer. We spent RM12,000 to RM15,000 a month for diesel before the Iraq war (in 2003) but now it is about RM35,000 to RM40,000.'

Advances in rail transport have benefited Malaysian commuters, but not bus operators, who feel the competition keenly even as they struggle with spiralling operations and maintenance costs.

Related Stories

No comments:

Post a Comment