Should we prepare for a school bus showdown? Or is there a solution on the way?

TRANSIT took note of this issue a few weeks ago and had not managed to comment on it until today.

School buses are a significant form of public transport in Malaysia. Unlike urban buses, school buses are in many cases still operated by individual permit owner-operators, the local “bus uncle” or “bus auntie”. Given that Malaysian cities are largely spread out & many roads in urban areas are not safe for walking or cycling on, it is no surprise that children from preschool-university age spend a great deal of time on school buses.

Do you understand what this means, ladies & gentlemen? These school bus drivers are independent and they have access to your children.

But don’t worry – this is not a post to scare people – just to remind them that sometimes the best laid plans of mice & men (and SPAD) hardly ever work out.

NEW LEASE OF LIFE: Second-hand school buses may return to the road for another 10 years. Image courtesy of The Malay Mail.

One more year: SPAD to give operators 12 months to offload their 30-year-old vehicles (The Malay Mail)
MARHALIM ABAS
Monday, September 5th, 2011

SCHOOL bus operators will be given a year to replace their vehicles which are more than 30 years old when the lifespan ruling is implemented.

The grace period, however, will only be allowed if the old buses pass Puspakom safety checks.

Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chief operating officer Azhar Ahmad said the grace period was given so operators would not have to rush to buy new school buses when their old vehicles reached the 30-year age limit.

He, however, declined to say when the ruling would be implemented.

It is expected the ruling will be enforced from next year as the re-registration period for commercial vehicles, including school buses, is due to end on Sept 30.

School bus operators have voiced opposition to the new ruling, cautioning there will be chaos if it is implemented immediately as most of the 25,000 vehicles serving the industry have reached the age limit.

[TRANSIT: That is a prime example of what we call failure to plan ahead.]

Both operators and drivers had called on SPAD to give more time and money to replace old school buses, claiming they did not earn enough to replace the old vehicles.

[TRANSIT: This is one of the problems with the “entrepreneurial” system where much of the money earned goes to pay permit rentals and additional costs & fees – often to people who have nothing to do with providing public transport services.]

Azhar said SPAD viewed the continuing use of old school buses as a serious safety issue, citing the commission’s survey that some 2,000 school buses in Penang and Johor were more than 35 years old.

[TRANSIT: And this is a major concern for us, although TRANSIT does not really focus on the school bus industry per se.]

It was probably this reason operators in both States had solicited the help of politicians from both sides of the divide to pressure the government to cancel the age-limit ruling.

[TRANSIT: Who are these wakil rakyat and which rakyat are they representing?]

Azhar said Malaysia was probably the only country in the world which allowed school buses that were more than three decades old to be on the road as the average lifespan for these vehicles in developed countries was 10 years.

[TRANSIT: Not to mention the safety issues that are plaguing the bus industry including bus design standards, bas potong, lack of rollover protection, and others. These issues have been found in express buses, stage buses & excursion & factory buses. How can anyone think school buses are immune?]

He said SPAD was entrusted to transform the country’s land transport and so it was baffling for the body to be facing opposition from the school bus industry which seemed eager to maintain the status quo.

Back on the road again

SPAD: Owners can opt for second-hand school buses

NEW LEASE OF LIFE: Second-hand school buses may return to the road for another 10 years

SCHOOL bus operators do not need to buy new buses when their vehicles are retired upon reaching the 30-year age limit.

They can opt to purchase second-hand buses, even 20-year-old ones, which they can operate for another 10 years.

Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chief operating officer Azhar Ahmad said there was no ruling or guidelines preventing operators from purchasing secondhand vehicles to continue with their operations.

He said second-hand buses cost between RM30,000 to RM80,000.

Azhar was commenting on claims by school bus operators that the 30-year age limit ruling for school buses will be detrimental to the industry.

They claimed the ruling, if implemented, would result in chaos as most of the 25,000 vehicles serving the industry reached the age limit.

[TRANSIT: That’s exactly what we need! Replace old, unsafe buses with slightly less old, slightly less unsafe buses. Imagine, the operators are playing politics & taking risks with the safety of your children! And SPAD is ok with that? What kind of a crazy situation is this? Is this what Syed Hamid was talking about when he said his hands are tied?]

Operators and bus drivers had called on SPAD to give time and money to replace old buses.

They claimed they did not earn enough from the business to be able to replace their old buses.

Azhar said SPAD inherited the 30-year age limit from the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB).

He said back in 2006, CVLB mandated school buses must be retired after 20 years of service.

However, the limit was raised to 30 years in 2009 following pressure by bus operators.

Azhar said bus operators were “testing the waters” and were trying to pressure the government into scrapping the age limit on school buses altogether.

Operators reject year-long grace period offer

THE olive branch offered by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) of a year-long grace period for school bus operators to replace 30-year-old buses with new ones has been rejected by the operators.

Describing it as “nothing new”, the operators are still holding out for financial aid to facilitate the purchase of new buses.

Federation of Malaysian School Bus Drivers Association adviser Amali Munif Rahmat said the one-year grace period was previously offered by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB).

“CVLB provided this before and we could appeal after the one-year period but it stopped after SPAD took over. Maybe for the public what SPAD is offering is news but it is nothing new to us,” he told The Malay Mail.

Amali also said SPAD was not serious in resolving the problem but chose to be coy with operators.

“We have asked for financial aid and SPAD said they don’t have the budget. Yes, we know SPAD do not have the budget but we expect them to push or at least make a request to the Finance Ministry. They are playing with words and we are frustrated with SPAD’s attitude,” he said.

[TRANSIT: From what we are hearing, En. Amali, the frustration is definitely mutual.]

School bus operators are opposed to the new ruling, cautioning there will be chaos if it was implemented immediately as most of the 25,000 vehicles serving the industry were of the 30-year age limit.

Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Bumiput ra School Bus Operators Association chairman Ahmad Fauzi Murad said if the government was adamant in implementing the policy without financial packages, they would not rule out a strike as a last option.

“We only earn so much. We have families to feed. We want the government to create a fund to help us. If not, we are forced to stop operations in KL and Selangor.

[TRANSIT: Yes, let’s create another fund that can have organizing costs, general & special leakages, and not actually do what it was supposed to. Anyone remember the 2008 promise of special loans for bus operators from the added revenue collected after the government raised the petrol price to $2.70/L.]

“The students will not have transport to schools and illegal vans will emerge in the light of government decisions made without discussions with stakeholders,” he said.

National Parent-Teacher Association Collaborative Council president Assoc Prof Datuk Mohamad Ali Hassan agreed with SPAD’s argument that continued use of old school buses could raise safety issues.

“Our concern is safety of drivers and children under their care. We believe 30 years is enough time for a bus to be on the road and the government must be firm on this matter. The government also should not give that kind of instruction and not help the bus operators and drivers. A special scheme must be introduced to allow operators to buy new buses on installment basis,” he said.

He said the government cannot expect to enforce new regulations while ignoring the welfare and interest of drivers.

He suggested buses that pass Puspakom’s inspection must be allowed to continue operating.

“If an old bus has been tested to be road-worthy it should be allowed to continue service for another five years. Within that timeframe, an operator can buy a new bus,” he said.

TRANSIT Says:

So there you have it. Another complete mess in the bus industry, fueled by poor planning & an industry that is trying to squeeze as much blood as possible from families; not to mention, putting the safety of your children – no, our children – at risk.

TRANSIT is frustrated by the articles above because the more we see it, the clearer the message becomes: SPAD is being set up to … if not fail, then fail to make a big difference in the industry as it was originally supposed to do.

And the people at SPAD know what is going on. They know their hands are being tied, with complicit support from some parties & certain areas. They know that their powers are slowly being taken away from them through bureaucracy & obfuscations – confusing the rakyat & members of SPAD alike.

So what is TRANSIT supposed to do in this situation? We are simply doing the best we can do – collect information, organize it and present it to the public so they can be aware and make wise choices.

Whether it is the rail industry, or stage buses, express buses, excursion buses, commercial lorries, school buses or factory buses, the public transport industry needs to be fixed, and the public has to be part of the process.

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One thought on “Should we prepare for a school bus showdown? Or is there a solution on the way?”

  1. I think the Govt has not the will to control the school bus operators. We have had over the years been told by the operators they would resort some kind action to inconvenience the public at large who relay heavily on the buses to send and bring home children to and from schools.
    I see children crammed in a mini van and many of these vans are not approved by JPJ. I live 4 km from the school where my son attends and I pay, like it or not RM75.00 p.m. for his carriage in and old non air conditioned van.
    The Govt and the public is forever held at ransom. The Govt, especially, nearer election time.

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