Tuesday 16 August 2016

Smoother ride with school bus services portal

Set up by MOE, the website ensures more transparency with details of fares and operators
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 15 Aug 2016

The school bus sector is now more transparent, with parents able to check which operators have been appointed by several schools as well as the fares the operators charge.

This is thanks to the Internet portal set up by the Education Ministry (MOE) in January last year.

The ministry said 31 schools are now using the portal and another 34 will join it in January next year. It will eventually include all schools.

The website - known as the Information Notice Board for School Bus Services (IBSB) - also allows operators which are not registered with government procurement website GeBiz to bid to run bus services.

A ministry spokesman said: "Schools will select bus operators through a competitive process on IBSB and award contracts to operators who can best meet their needs."

Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) chairman Wong Ann Lin estimates that at least 60 per cent of school bus operators are not GeBiz- registered. He said the portal will help to improve transparency in the school bus industry.

"Usually, parents don't have a channel to obtain information about school bus services," he said. "Now, they can see and compare the fares and also negotiate directly with the appointed operators."

He added that given the larger pool of operators, schools have more options and they can also attract more competitive offers.

A check on the portal showed that operators charge a range of fares. A two-way trip of up to 2km costs from about $80 to as much as $300 on a 15-seater bus.

The school bus sector has, in recent years, faced issues such as rising costs, poor service by some operators and disputes with parents about unpredictable fee hikes.

In the past five years, the Consumers Association of Singapore has received 39 complaints about school bus services. Of these, 10 involved operators terminating services suddenly or collecting deposits and not providing the promised service. Six were about operators hiking prices after consumers signed contracts.

Mrs Grace Yong, 35, whose son in Primary 1 takes the school bus to his daycare centre every day, said: "It's good to have more transparency, although I'm okay with any bus operator that the school appoints, as long as it does its job."

Springdale Primary School principal Lee-Koh Siew Cheng welcomed IBSB, saying there is a limited number of bidders on GeBiz. Her school began using the portal in July last year. "With more bus vendors coming on board and submitting bids, schools will now have more options when evaluating (operators); and this ensures service quality and value for money," she said.

"Parents will be able to compare the bus fares quoted by various appointed school bus operators for schools in the same neighbourhood."

Madam Chilukuri Dimps Rao, principal of Yumin Primary School, which joined the portal a year ago, said parents had to contact bus companies for fare details in the past. Now, they can "understand the rates for the different distances and can negotiate with the bus operators based on the information provided for each distance benchmark".

Single-bus operators like Mr Ng Beng Twan said it would be better if drivers had access to the new website in Chinese. "If it's only in English, we cannot understand all the terms," said the 52-year-old who ferries pupils to a school in Jurong.

Speaking in Mandarin, he said that displaying all the bus fares online is good, to ensure that operators do not overcharge.

But Mr Mazlan Omar, 48, another bus operator, said displaying fares by distance may cause parents to think it is unfair if they are charged differently for other reasons, such as having different pick-up and drop-off points on the same day.

• Visit the IBSB website at https://schadmsvc.moe.gov.sg/moeibsb/

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