Malaysia schoolbus operators hike fare despite drop in diesel prices

Malaysian School Buses.

MALACCA - The new fares will kick in immediately.

The Federation of Malaysian Schoolbus Operators Associations said its members had to raise fares because under the existing fee structure, they were unable to cope with rising maintenance costs for their vehicles.

Its president Amali Munif Rahmat said it was a "do or die situation" with many of the operators and that a good number of them were turning into illegal transporters because they could save money on licence fees and insurance costs.

He said it was five years since the fares were last increased and the operators did not benefit from the drop in diesel price.

"The cost of operating a schoolbus has shot up by 100 per cent. Compare that to the savings in diesel cost," he said.

"An 11R-sized tyre is RM1,600 (S$598.7) when in 2009 it was only RM950, while engine oil is RM196 for an 18-litre can compared to RM95 seven years ago."

Bus operators now charge RM27.43 for the first kilometre and RM2.05 for each subsequent kilometre in urban areas under a fare scheme regulated since 2009 by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board.

Parents in rural areas pay a lower fare, RM20.62 for the first kilometre and RM2.02 for every subsequent kilometre.

The federation represents 37 associations with a total of about 10,000 members nationwide. There are about 17,500 schoolbus operators in the country.

Schoolbus operator Abdullah Mat Zin, 57, from Teluk Mas here, said he increased his fare by a minimal amount this year.

"It was only a few ringgit more but some parents opted to go with illegal operators instead," he said.

He said it was difficult to compete because the illegal operators usually charged less or were from the same neighbourhood as the customers.

Federation secretary-general Md Saad Mohamad warned that students ferried by illegal operators were taking a risk.

He said these operators did not have any permit from the Land Public Transport Commission and were not insured to ferry passengers.

Amali Munif suggested that the Government consider subsidising schoolbus fares.

"This is a necessary service and the children being ferried are from lower to middle income families who should get government assistance on this," he said.

Or, he suggested, the Government could look into allotting funds to schoolbus operators, much like the funding it provides to the RapidKL transport bus operator and the operator of the GoKL free bus service for tourists.

According to him, the financial aid provided by the Government to replace aging schoolbus fleets was insufficient.

He said the buses were assembled in Japan and cost a minumum of RM300,000 each but the assistance from the Government only covered half that amount.

"And most operators have much difficulty getting financing for new buses because they either have existing loans or do not earn enough to pay the monthly instalments," he said.