Case to accredit school bus operators

Primary school pupils boarding a school bus.
Primary school pupils boarding a school bus.PHOTO: ST FILE

Firms should fulfil stricter criteria, like having clear policies on fee collection and refund

Parents and students from at least five schools were left in the lurch earlier this year when a school bus operator failed to deliver services it had promised.

Now, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) are joining hands to avert a repeat of that situation.

Yesterday, they signed a memorandum of understanding to develop - in six months - an accreditation scheme for the school transport industry.

Operators who sign up for the CaseTrust accreditation scheme will be able to give customers more assurance by complying with stricter criteria.

These include clear policies about the collection and refund of bus fees and an insurance bond of $100,000 that will be paid out to customers if a bus operator terminates or liquidates his business.

Parents and schools will also be able to cancel contracts, within five days of signing them, if they are not satisfied with the delivery of services, and there will be mechanisms in place to handle disputes.

Eighteen bus operators that serve about 50 schools have pledged to join the scheme.

Since 2010, Case has received 39 complaints about school bus services. These include the case earlier this year in which Mr Adrian Lee, the owner of Sindoz Group, allegedly stopped responding to phone calls after collecting at least $50,000 in bus fees from five schools in January.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, president of Case, said that the new agreement is a "small step" towards addressing challenges in the school transport industry.

The SSTA now represents 1,200 fleet and single-bus operators.

Mr Lim, who is also on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said: "I understand that there is some cost involved, especially if you're a single-bus operator. But we hope more will come on board once they see that there are tangible benefits."

Mr Wong Ann Lin, executive council chairman of SSTA, added that it will continue outreach efforts to operators to join the scheme.

Operators with the CaseTrust accreditation will be subject to an interim check after four years to ensure that they have been complying with the terms, before their contracts are renewed.

Mr Ben Tan, 40, who operates BT and Tan Transport, is among those who will be joining the CaseTrust scheme.

He said the standardised fare structure under the new scheme will improve communication with his customers.

"Many complaints arise because parents are not sure how many months we are collecting fees for, or how often we do it. It'll be good if there is more transparency involved."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Case to accredit school bus operators'. Print Edition | Subscribe