Bus operators at the 'mercy' of drivers

PETALING JAYA - Express bus operators say they are being held to ransom by their own drivers, who are allegedly exploiting a driver shortage in the industry to escape punishment for dangerous driving.

An operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Star that one of his drivers sabotaged his bus after being reprimanded for speeding two weeks ago.

"We called him up and asked why he was driving very fast. He replied: 'Hey, the steering is in my hands, I do what I like. You think I'm afraid (of you)?'

"Then he took the bus somewhere and poured sand into the engine," said the operator.

He said although a police report was lodged, no action was taken against the driver, who quit for another company.

Relating another case, the operator said a driver who was ticked off for speeding, threatened to walk away and leave his passengers by the roadside.

The operator experienced a high turnover of bus speed monitors, saying they would quit when verbally abused by the drivers.

"We employ women (for this) because they're more soft-spoken. But many resign after a month or two because the drivers used vulgar words when scolding them," he said.

Another operator, who also declined to be named, said he also came across drivers who dictated terms to their employers.

"They don't say it to my face but they have told my other drivers they don't care if I take action against them," he said, adding not all drivers were bad but the ones giving the industry a bad name could not be booted out because operators needed any driver they could get their hands on.

Suggestions by the industry to fill this shortage with foreign drivers, even temporarily, were rejected by the Government, he said.

He said increasing wages to woo better drivers was also difficult, saying bus fares had not gone up since 2009 despite a rise in operational costs.

Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association (PMBOA) president Datuk Ashfar Ali declined to comment on the issue of errant bus drivers.

He confirmed, however, the industry was experiencing a driver shortage, adding: "The Government has to ensure a constant supply of drivers into the market.

"All these safety measures cost money. We urge passengers to be prepared to pay higher fares."

Ashfar said the authorities had to urgently implement the 51 recommendations of an independent advisory panel to prevent fatal bus accidents.