At a recent forum, Bukit Gasing assemblyperson Rajiv Rishyakaran said decentralisation can be beneficial to the public transportation sector.
“Decentralisation can help increase usage because the state government or local councils understand the local situation better.
“For now, Spad (Land Public Transport Commission) deploys buses according to their route plans when it is actually best decided at the local level. Currently, the network planning is done by private companies, so the planning is profit-oriented. They were concerned about the bottom-line,” he said.
Rajiv disclosed that proposals for improvement have been submitted by councillors from his constituency, but Prasarana was hesitant, since plans were deemed unprofitable. He proposed subsidising bus operators to service unprofitable routes as a solution, or introduce a scheme whereby the government pays public transport operators a fixed income to incentivise punctual and good services.
Just like centralisation, decentralisation too has its own merits and demerits. Success does not depend on the system but more on the people behind it. The existence of Spad is fait accompli, and calls for decentralisation should have been made before the Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat Act 2010 was passed by Parliament.
Spad replaced the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board, which had to serve political masters and did minimal planning to develop a healthy transport industry. This changed when Spad took over, as professionals were brought in to transform land public transport. Several master plans were swiftly drawn up and were posted online for public scrutiny.
Anyone interested in bus services would know that Spad is not a bus operator, and therefore does not deploy buses, as claimed by Rajiv. Bus companies that wish to operate new routes can submit their applications to Spad.
For example, Causeway Link was given permission to operate along two new routes, and has begun running from Pulau Meranti to IOI Mall at 30-minute intervals, and soon from Cyberjaya to IOI Mall. These two routes were formerly serviced by Nadi Putra.
While private stage bus companies such as Causeway Link must stay profitable to continue operating, Prasarana should be less concerned with its bottom line, as the main aim of the government running a bus service is for the benefit of the rakyat. Local politicians and councillors should also engage with Spad and not just with Prasarana.
If local authorities are concerned with bus commuters, it could also start by building safer and more comfortable bus stands, which should be more than just a shed at the road side. Bus stands should be moved further away from the road and a layby constructed for the bus to drive in and stop without holding up traffic.
In this way, those waiting for buses are less prone to snatch thefts or being hit by vehicles that veer out of control. Bus stands should incorporate a micro shop, and the operator tasked to ensure cleanliness of the area. If ex-servicemen are appointed as concessionaires, their presence would provide some security, particularly to women and children.
There is no need to install expensive electronic displays at bus stands as stage bus companies can easily introduce mobile apps for their passengers to check on estimated arrival times, instead of waiting indefinitely for buses. This will certainly increase confidence and ridership.
Interestingly, Mara Liner Sdn Bhd recently won the Rural and Regional Development Minister’s Special Award as recognition that the company had recorded a sharp increase in performance as well as contributed to the community.
The company operates 300 buses and profits nearly doubled from the year before. Their corporate social responsibility efforts included providing transportation services to residents of rural and remote areas so they were able to commute to the city and back.
As for unprofitable routes, Spad had been providing the Interim Stage Bus Support Fund (ISBSF) since January 2012 by paying bus operators to run social routes. Without funding ISBSF, it would cost the government more to operate bus service along routes with low ridership.
As for paying bus operators a fixed income, this had already started two years ago in Kangar under the Stage Bus Services Transformation (SBST) programme, also known as myBAS. Since then, the SBST programme has been rolled out in Seremban and Ipoh, with other key cities in the pipeline.
Daily, stage buses combined provide transport for more commuters than all other buses and trains combined. Private stage bus companies deserve support as it would cost the government more by running bus services.
Those interested to ensure residents of a constituency enjoy reliable bus service should engage with both Spad and local bus operators to find the best solution. Claiming that state governments or local councils understand local situations better does not always hold water.
It would be more convincing to offer concrete proposals such as supporting private stage bus companies to run new routes with subsidy if warranted, or offering free bus service to the rakyat, although it would be enjoyed mostly by foreign workers.