Malaysiakini Letter

Rising school bus fares a perennial issue

YS Chan  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The annual general meeting (AGM) of the Federation of Malaysian School Bus Operators was held recently. Its president Mohd Rofik Mohd Yusof spoke to reporters after the meeting and said fares are likely to be increased next year to meet rising costs.

He indicated that the hike could be between RM10 and RM20, but the amount is subject to mutual agreement between individual operators and parents paying for school bus fares monthly.

This is because school bus fares were deregulated by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) from 2015, and the law does not allow cartels to fix fares.

In Oct 2014, the Malaysia Competition Commission warned school bus operators intent on collectively increasing fares would be contravening Section 4 of the Competition Act and may be fined up to 10 percent of their turnover.

School bus operators hold their AGMs towards the end of each year. It is normal for members to lament about rising costs and seek group support to raise fares, but would be wrong to coerce those who feel otherwise.

No one gets rich operating school buses as income is restricted by the vehicle’s seating capacity and the limited number of trips in a day. Meagre profits could easily be wiped out by repair costs for collision damage or fines to settle summonses.

Higher fares are necessary to meet rising costs of replacement parts, maintenance labour and fuel. While some school bus and van operators, particularly the unlicensed ones, may be reckless, most drivers are responsible, caring and patient with rowdy schoolchildren.

On the other hand, incomes of most parents are unable to catch up with inflation, with those in the bottom 40 (B40) group suffering the most. For a poor family, paying RM20 more per child every month could spell the difference between having a meal or going hungry on many occasions.

Mercifully, some parents qualify for financial assistance for school bus fares but many are not so lucky. It is common to find parents riding dangerously to school with one or more schoolchildren on motorcycles, some hanging on for dear life.

Just before opening or after closing, the scenes outside schools are often chaotic. It is usually a mad scramble when schoolchildren rush out of vehicles or schools, with motorists trying to get out of bottlenecks and also not to hold up traffic.

Similarly, every yearend would see a tussle between school bus operators trying to raise fares while parents would raise objections. The authorities are in a dilemma, as both sides need help, and supporting one party may be to the detriment of the other.

We are in such a predicament because the income of the B40 has not kept pace with inflation, although Malaysia’s gross domestic product per capita has grown 21.5 percent from US$9,071 in 2010 to US$11,028 in 2016.

As there is no light at the end of the tunnel, it is likely that raising school bus fares every yearend would be haunting parents for years to come.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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