Relief for parents coping with rising bus fees

SINGAPORE - Parents with primary school-going children who receive financial aid from the Government welcomed the transport subsidies announced in the Budget on Monday.

Students on the Ministry of Education's (MOE) financial assistance scheme can use the subsidies to defray public transport expenses. Primary school pupils on financial aid can also use the subsidies to pay for their school bus fees.

The subsidies, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Monday, will help cover at least half of a student's transport costs. Details about how these subsidies will be given to parents and in what form will be announced at a later date.

But parents are already looking forward to the extra help to cope with rising bus fees.

Ms Pia Rozario, 41, for instance, welcomed the support. The single mother pays $440 in school bus fees each month for her two children, who are both on the MOE's financial assistance scheme.

"I'm very pleased with the announcement. I really need it," said the student care teacher who earns about $1,500 each month.

She added that school bus fees for her 11-year-old son have been rising by $5 to $10 each year since he was in Primary 1. Her daughter started Primary 1 this year. Both children are in St Hilda's Primary School.

School bus operators often increase fees when a new school year begins, with increments ranging from $5 to $20.

Operators say that with rising business costs, it is hard to keep prices low for parents and students without making losses.

"Vehicle insurance gets more expensive every year. You pay about $500 more each year even if you were not involved in an accident," said Mr Terence Chua, who runs DelMe Transport Service and provides school bus services to three primary schools.

"Fuel prices dropped only recently, but they have always been pricey. You have to pay drivers a reasonable salary too, or else they will not take up the job," added the 32-year-old, who has been in the industry for eight years.

Buses run on diesel and are not affected by the increase in petrol taxes, also announced on Monday.

Mr Wong Ann Lin, chairman of the Singapore School Transport Association, said that for many bus companies, ferrying pupils is less profitable than transporting factory workers living in dormitories.

This is why some companies have to raise school bus fees.

"The association tries to help small firms survive by helping them raise school bus fees and making bulk purchases for fuel and insurance," said Mr Wong, 66.

He added that his bus company, which counts three primary schools as its clients, has had to increase fees in the last few years by about $10 or $20 to cope with rising costs.

"The transport subsidies for students is good news for bus firms too, as firms can charge parents a price that will allow them to profit," he said.

This article was first published on Feb 26, 2015.
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