Saturday, August 20

Poor start for S’wak express buses as restrictions deter passengers, says association

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The almost deserted scene at the Sibu Bus Terminal.

SIBU: Although express bus services in Sarawak have been given the green light to resume today, Sarawak Bus Transport Company Association advisor Lau Khing Seng said the news has not been at all rosy for operators.

He said business was not expected to pick up soon due to the various restrictions which are still in force, especially the requirement on passengers to get the police permit before they travel.

“We will need to take at least a few months before the situation can improve,” he said.

Lau said it remains unclear how many bus companies were able to continue their business today.

“It all depends on the passenger volume. If we have only one or two passengers, we may have to cancel the trip because we are not able to cover the overhead costs with only a handful of passengers per trip,” he added.

Transport Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin yesterday said the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) had approved the resumption of express/regional bus services in Sarawak, effective June 4.

He said the decision was taken following the encouraging sign of the government efforts to curtail the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in Sarawak.

However, Lee said people who wished to travel across district boundaries were still required to get the police permit before their travel, besides outlying the standard operating procedures (SOPS) which the operators have to follow for their services to resume.

Lau believes most people are still unwilling to travel at this point of time as they not only feel insecure to travel around but also have to go through all the hassles and troubles of applying for the police permits.

“It will take a few hours just to apply the permits, so the people might as well stay put and wait for the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) to end before deciding on their next course of action.”

He said the prolonged Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed since March 18 and later the CMCO aimed to curb the chain of Covid-19 infection had brought a heavy toll on the bus services industry.

He did not discount the possibility of the bus services sliding into becoming a sunset industry to join the likes of the express boats business.

From a high of about 30 bus companies operating in the 1990’s in the state, he said only nine bus companies remained in operation today.

He said that included three bus companies each in Kuching and Sibu, two in Miri and one in Sarikei.

During the peak season like celebrating festivities, Lau said they could get about 10 trips per day, be it to Sibu-Kuching, Sibu-Bintulu or Sibu-Miri routes.

“However, if we are to talk about the low-season period, it’s difficult even to get five trips per day,” he said.

Lau said their only respite was to wait for the Pan Borneo Highway to be completed if they were to expect their business to pick up.

“We are confident that once the highway is completed, the number of passengers will also increase, hence the number of trips,’ he said.

In addition, Lau said all bus operators will comply with the rules and guidelines of the SOP for the resumption of their business.

He said this included sanitizing their buses, subjecting bus drivers to health screening, bus operators to reorganise seating arrangement in the buses to comply with social distancing, body temperature check on passengers, the wearing of masks and also to ensure that all passengers have police permits.

Meanwhile, a check at the Sibu Bus Terminal here found the place almost deserted.

Most of the bus companies are operating but with the exception of those catering to cargo service, there were hardly any passengers seen.