By CY Ming
At a press conference held in Melaka last month, president of the Pan-Malaysian Bus Operators Association, Mohamad Ashfar Ali, pointed out that the last fare increase for express buses was in 2013, and school bus fares were deregulated in January 2015.
At the rate of 9.3 sen per kilometre, he feared express bus operators would eventually close shop as many have reduced their fleet size to cut losses. He repeated his call for the government to deregulate express bus fares.
There must be good reasons why the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) has not done so. Regulation is good in theory, as operators can set a variety of fares and services for the public to choose from.
Although some may choose to operate below the current rate, there is no stopping express bus operators from forming an informal cartel to set much higher fares, and passengers would suffer.
Clearly, deregulation could backfire, but at the same time, the current rate is unsustainable. Raising fares to another fixed rate would be repeating past practices and mistakes.
The best way forward is to have a four-tiered rate, similar to airlines.
For example, budget services can be pegged at 9 sen per km, economy class at 12 sen, business class at 15 sen and luxury service uncapped.
This would allow passengers to pay for the type of service they want instead of the government imposing unnecessary conditions on express bus operators and not giving options to the public.
SPAD should be congratulated for planning to extend the driver’s card for taxi drivers to express bus drivers as well. However, it should not charge more than what taxi drivers are currently paying.
Sceptics are convinced that this is more of a money-raising exercise, along the lines of the RM10 tourism tax recently introduced by the tourism and culture ministry, and RM1 levy on departing airline passengers by the Malaysian Aviation Commission which will kick in next year.
CY Ming is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.