Wednesday, February 19

Rising costs, changing policies may cause a third of school bus operators to quit

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KOTA KINABALU: Some 30 per cent of school bus operators are expected to cease operating when schools reopen next year, citing rising costs and ever changing policies as the reasons.

Sabah West Coast School Bus Association president Kenny Wong said the government had made adjustments to the rate for school bus fares from time to time, but the revision had not been reasonable as it did not take into account fuel price fluctuations, high maintenance and tyre costs, rising living costs and the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

“We wanted to raise the bus fares, but the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) did not allow us to do so,” he said when asked if school bus operators would be raising their fares in view of the increase in costs next year.

Federation of Malaysian School Bus Operators Associations president Amali Munif Rahmat said that prices would

be set by individual operators or companies and may differ from one another.

However, a local Chinese daily reported that CVLB Sabah did not allow school bus operators in Sabah and Labuan to increase their fares without approval.

The board said request to increase bus fares should be submitted to CVLB for discussion and subsequently to the Federal Cabinet for approval.

Wong said a small school bus need to make RM3,000 a month, cost included, to sustain.

“After deducting fuel expenses (RM700 to RM800 a month), tyres (which needed to be changed every few months), repair and maintenance, vehicle insurance and Puspakom (Computerized Vehicle Inspection Centre), small school buses may only make a profit of RM1,000 a month.

“It is very hard driving a school bus, more so for operators who need to raise a whole family. We do not earn much profit, just enough to put three meals on the table,” he lamented.

Wong pointed out that the government had said the school bus fares were open for operators to determine a few years ago, but the government is telling the opposite now.

He said the association has had dialogues with the CVLB management and director and reached a consensus, but

to no avail because the management kept changing.

“When we asked for a black and white letter (on the consensus achieved), the officer told us that he could not issue the letter because the management has changed, and subsequently, the policy. We are confused by the government policies and do not know which ones to follow,” he said.

Wong said the current school bus fares were negotiated between operators and parents, which was based on the distance from home to school, the number of students to be picked up in a certain area and the students’ schedule.

“For instance, the fare from Penampang to a school in Likas is between RM120 and RM140. Some students have afternoon sessions or stay back for activities till 5pm, so that will be slightly more expensive.” If the policy remained unchanged, there will be less and less school bus operators, he said.

In fact, Wong said around 30 per cent of schools buses would cease to operate when schools reopen next year due to ‘wishy-washy’ government policies.

He said the ban on using school buses of over 30 years old and not being allowed to adjust their bus fares have pushed operators to find other income sources.

As a result, Wong said there were less school buses to service areas such as Donggongon or Penampang.

“There is no school bus service in Country Heights,” he said, citing an example.

This is because operators will not drive to Donggongon just to pick up one of two students when they are not allowed increase their fares.

“Some parents are willing to pay RM200 a month, but operators would still decline (to fetch the students) because of the distance.” Hence, he said school bus

service is easier to find only in Kota Kinabalu area, and for schools with less complicated schedules.

Wong also said the government did not allow school bus operators to adjust their fares because it would increase the burden of the people in this current economy, but the administration had failed to look into the predicament of the operators.

“We also need to live. I would like to ask the government how we can survive in this sector.” Sabah West Coast

School Bus Association has more than 300 members, but only some 200-odd members are active.

About 70 per cent of the members are Chinese while the remainder are Bumiputera school bus operators.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Malaysian School Bus Operators Associations asked its members not to raise fees next year, urging them to absorb the rising costs instead.

Federation president Amali said although the implementation of the GST and ringgit’s depreciation had inevitably increased business costs for bus service operators, he hoped they would consider maintaining their prices.

He added that this was to avoid passing the burden to their clients, who were mainly parents already struggling to cope with the high cost of living.

“We are pleading with bus service operators to absorb the costs if they can.

“There have been suggestions for an increase in fees (next year) as it had not been raised previously and there was a rise in costs to do business.

“However, we hope operators will maintain the fees as clients are also facing the stress of financial burdens,” he told a news portal yesterday.