WhyItMatters

Express bus worries return

The express bus industry in Malaysia is a dying trade, with only 140 licences issued last year compared with 389 in 2008, due largely to the boom in low-cost airline travel in the region.

Yet, despite a budget carrier tagline that reads "now everyone can fly", many in Malaysia and even Singapore still cannot afford to take to the air on a regular basis. Others may find express buses fitting their travel schedules better.

But questions over express buses are in the headlines again after 14 people, including three Singaporeans, were killed in a crash in Muar last week.

The Malaysian government controls ticket prices, meaning that a person can still travel from Johor Baru to Kuala Lumpur for just RM34 (S$11), or from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore for RM45.

This is well below any airfare, let alone the extra costs of airport transfers.

 
 
 

There has been an average of two fatal bus accidents annually since 2010, causing much public anger and angst every time they happen.

Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) chairman Syed Hamid Albar called on Monday for the government to deregulate fares, as these have affected vehicle maintenance and wages, leading drivers to take on as many journeys as possible instead of going for much-needed rest. It was reported that the Muar bus driver had only three hours of rest after driving from Penang to Johor Baru before heading back north.

Bus operators have also long complained that fares have not been reviewed since 2009, although taxi fares were raised last year. Bus companies are thus discouraged from improving their services.

Spad wants to take over the enforcement of bus regulations, currently handled by the Road Transport Department. These regulations have not resulted in any improvements, the opposition says, despite the 51 recommendations made by a widely publicised independent inquiry into a 2013 Genting bus crash that killed 37 people.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Express bus worries return'. Print Edition | Subscribe