MALAYSIA’S bus industry faces challenges from crowded bus operators to competition from cheap transportation modes, such as e-hailing and train services.
But they can be mitigated by deregulating fares, which was done for school buses in 2015. Fares and charter rates for excursion buses are not regulated, and rightly so.
Deregulating express bus fares will encourage bus operators to choose the type of service they wish to provide, much like hotels offering one- to five-star accommodations.
In a free market, some bus operators provide no-frills service and charge fares below the regulated rate.
Others may cater to the luxury market, which is not feasible as long as express bus fares are capped.
As for stage bus companies, they are in the doldrums.
Without the Interim Stage Bus Support Fund (SBSF) to subsidise their operations, the remaining operators would have joined others that have closed shop, as they are obligated to run profitable and unprofitable routes.
Some of them compete with government-run bus companies, such as Rapid Bus Sdn Bhd, and jostle for space at bus stands.
But the value of providing free services to the people is not lost on the Selangor government, which, in July 2015, had introduced free bus services in Shah Alam, Subang and Klang.
As the free bus service expanded, it obliterated private stage- bus companies.
By last September, the 100th Smart Selangor bus route was launched and earned a place in the Malaysia Book of Records as the “most number of free shuttle bus services provided by the state government”.
The number of passengers ferried by the public transport bus service were 546,661 in 2015, 4,163,654 in 2016, and 6,024,044 for the first eight months of last year.
The total cost from July 2015 to August last year was RM42.53 million, with RM33.53 million paid by the state government and the balance by the local authorities.
But it would have cost lesser and saved millions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money by issuing bus cards to Malaysians, who can travel at discounted fares in normal stage buses, instead of running free buses, which are often more empty than full.
This will help stage-bus companies, as they can add more buses to cope with any increase in demand. Selangor residents will likely be more appreciative of the state government each time they use such bus cards.
When a service is free and available to everyone, including foreigners, its value depreciates, and we tend to take it for granted.
But it is intoxicating to gain publicity by running free shuttle bus service that connects a vast area, although a more efficient and cheaper alternative is available.