The nation’s school bus operators are manoeuvring through some challenging conditions, and if things do not change for the better, we may well see many departing the sector.
But a solution may already be available.
The government should look closely at the MySchoolBus initiative launched by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) two years ago.
The programme offers complimentary school bus services to the B40 and M40 demographic in Kuala Lumpur, using 450 operators and a fleet of 900 buses. Presently, 15,128 students in Kuala Lumpur benefit from the service.
Those statistics suggest that a similar programme can be successfully implemented across the rest of the Klang Valley, especially given its current battle with severe traffic jams. It can easily be extended to other cities and towns across the country.
The MySchoolBus initiative promises a lifeline for school bus operators, an integral part of our transport sector economy.
It is unlikely that such a programme would put an excessive financial burden on the government, particularly if it is framed as a school bus subsidy aimed at assisting the B40 demographic.
The 2024 budget raised eyebrows when it earmarked a whopping RM600 million for Prasarana to acquire additional feeder buses, particularly given that the current fleet is underutilised and provides little to no value to commuters.
It is clear that these feeder buses have failed to address the longstanding problem of first and last-mile connectivity.
Those funds would be put to better use if redirected to support the implementation of the MySchoolBus programme on a national scale.
School buses and their service providers have long been mischaracterised. The buses have been labelled unsafe and prone to accidents, and their operators have been accused of overcharging.
As a result, many parents have resorted to ferrying children to school themselves.
This has escalated road congestion and put school bus operators on the brink.
Surveys showing a drop of up to 35% in traffic volume during school holidays and term breaks suggest that a sizeable chunk of this traffic involves private trips to and from school.
The MySchoolBus programme has the potential to recalibrate these misperceptions, while simultaneously alleviating traffic snarls, especially around schools.
To put it in perspective, the use of one mini school bus on the road has the potential to remove up to 12 cars from the road.
Those numbers are capable of bringing immediate, tangible benefits for all road users.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.