Malaysian express buses 'safe, but drivers' pay too low'

Despite the Muar crash that killed 14 people, including three Singaporeans, industry stakeholders said Malaysian express buses are generally safe. PHOTO: EPA

Malaysian express buses are generally safe despite last week's Muar crash that killed 14 people, including three Singaporeans, but drivers tend to "chase trips" to chalk up more commission, and more needs to be done to raise their pay, said industry stakeholders.

While the Christmas Eve accident has raised concerns about these buses, the Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) said at a briefing last Wednesday that deaths from express bus accidents fell from 83 in 2013 to 66 in 2014. They make up only a fraction of total road deaths of 6,915 and 6,674 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Data for 2015 was not available.

Pan Malaysia Bus Operators Association (PMBOA) president Mohamad Ashfar Ali told The Sunday Times: "Out of hundreds of trips a day, there is one accident and everyone jumps on the bandwagon."

Human factors caused 66 per cent of all bus and lorry accidents, the commission said. This was largely due to dangerous driving, speeding and fatigue, with one in 10 accidents caused by faulty vehicles.

The Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research said that for the Christmas Eve accident, there were signs that the bus driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel, The Malay Mail reported yesterday.

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said yesterday that a preliminary report showed that the driver was speeding and had driven for some eight hours without a second driver. All buses are required to have a second driver for journeys of more than 300km.

A Ministry of Transport spot check at the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan bus station in Kuala Lumpur found a number of bus firms to be in breach of the law, for things such as not having a second driver or worn tires, The Star reported.

Regulation aside, the industry regulator and industry players said there is a need to improve the earnings of bus drivers, who often clock long hours so as to earn more.

Spad chief commissioner Syed Hamid Albar said bus drivers often speed or feel fatigued because they are "chasing trips". They do so because most of their wages come from commission for completing journeys.

The government should remove regulated pricing for express buses, and allow market-determined fares, which would permit a better basic salary for bus drivers, he said.

PMBOA agrees, but the Peninsular Malaysia Bus Drivers' Association prefers a hike in regulated fares, the last of which was in 2009.

Its president, Mr Sa'adan Man, said the average fixed wage of bus drivers is only RM300 (S$97) a month, with drivers getting RM60 for return trips from Johor Baru to Kuala Lumpur and about RM100 for Penang to Johor Baru.

"Not coming home for 20 days is quite normal... But the government doesn't want to know at all. It can give fishermen and farmers allowances, but not bus drivers. All we get are summonses," he said.

Under regulations, a driver can drive only eight hours a day and must rest for at least half an hour after every four hours of driving.

But Mr Sa'adan, who has been driving buses since 1973, said the rule is impractical. "(For) a trip from Penang to KL, if there is a jam, there is no way to return in eight hours. This is not like a desk job."

Datuk Ashfar of PMBOA said there is an annual shortfall of 3,000 lorry and bus drivers. It has asked the government to provide free training for bus drivers.

"We have free training for massage, phone repair and laying bricks, so why not driving? It costs RM5,000 to RM6,000 to get (the driver's licence), and a lot have left for Singapore to earn more," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline Malaysian express buses 'safe, but drivers' pay too low'. Subscribe