No bus for you, Seremban and surrounding area! (Update #4)

TRANSIT woke up to more and more bad news with bus service! Thousands of commuters living around Seremban are affected as local bus services are shut down.

Going nowhere: Bus drivers and employees of the consortium sitting at their depot in Oakland near Seremban 2 after services to several areas were terminated yesterday. Image courtesy of The Star.
More buses than usual lying idle at the depot now that services have been greatly reduced in Negri Sembilan. Image courtesy of The Star.

The biggest surprise – the buses shown in the photos above are “CityLiner” branded buses – and the CityLiner brand is used by various subsidiary companies of Konsortium Transnasional Berhad – Malaysia’s largest (and probably most complicated – see corporate structure here) public transport consortium and owner of well known public transport brands Transnasional, Nice and Plusliner.

The item below is quoted from the KTB website.

Cityliner – Negeri Sembilan Operations

Just like the two regions above, this region is an operations merger of four subsidiary companies under Jelebu Holdings Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary (83.2%) company of Park May Berhad that operates in Western part of Negeri Sembilan with two other subsidiary companies of KKMB, i.e. Starise Sdn Bhd and the stage bus outfit of Syarikat Rembau Tampin Sdn Bhd that operates the Eastern part of Negeri Sembilan. A Regional Manager was appointed to lead one integrated team to focus on the profitability of running the entire stage bus operations in Negeri Sembilan. The resulted merger has a capacity of running approximately 215 permits/buses. Besides running ordinary routes in housing areas and on main roads of Negeri Sembilan, the Cityliner buses here also serve the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) from Seremban, Nilai and Banting.

Now, we are really not happy. We could understand if a small bit-player was forced into stopping service because of continuous loss-making operations. But this is the largest public transport consortium in the country! Can they not find a way to keep services running?

In any case, read the articles. We will provide links to the various articles and comments after the jump.

The New Articles:

Commuters seek other means (The Star)
Friday November 18, 2011
By SARBAN SINGH
newsdesk@thestar.com.my

SEREMBAN: For two days in a row, commuters here waited in vain for buses to various parts of the state and Selangor as bus operators remained defiant and refused to revise their decision to discontinue serving unprofitable routes.

[TRANSIT: Not only is there a shut down, but the total lack of information about public transport means that some commuters will literally be waiting for buses that will not come.]

Some commuters have started making alternative plans to ensure that they are not late for work.

Many opted for the KTM Komuter service while others hitched rides with friends and family members.

Konsortium Transnasional Berhad (KTB) started its stage bus service here two years ago.

The bright red air-conditioned buses were a welcome sight as folks from faraway towns could travel to and from Seremban and the fare was cheaper than taking a taxi.

However, on Wednesday, the company abruptly stopped its services along at least 12 routes here, saying they were unprofitable.

Housewife J. Jayaletchumi 52, when met at the Km3 Jalan Sg Ujong bus station here early yesterday, said she now has to wake up much earlier to hitch a ride to town from her daughter-in-law.

“This is depressing as I don’t like to trouble anyone,” she said.

Nikmat Ali, 45, said he would have to take the KTM Komuter to get to work in Kajang.

“The bus service was prompt and cheap and I could get to my destination faster,” he said.

The bank clerk said commuters faced the same problem several years ago when Foh Hup Bus Co stopped servicing the route.

“The Government must inter-vene to help wage earners like me. Although we have the KTM Komuter, we should have a bus service to get to our destination,” he said.

Michael Chetan, 76, who was met at the Km5 Jalan Rasah bus stop, said his granddaughter is sitting for her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia and had to leave the house at Taman Happy earlier to get to school.

Car park attendant Jamilah Ibrahim, 38, said she had to borrow her father’s motorcycle to get to work yesterday.

Government retiree Edwin Abraham, 73, hoped that the authorities would find a quick solution to the problem.

“We are fortunate that this is the last week of school or many students would also be affected,” Abraham added.

TRANSIT Says:

So the story gets worse for us as we read of the inconvenience and problems that the public transport users are now facing. What makes it even worse is that the signs were there, but no one was paying attention.

KTB: We cannot subsidise Negri services any more (The Star)

Friday November 18, 2011
SEREMBAN: Konsortium Transna­sional Bhd (KTB), the country’s largest bus operator, stopped its stage bus services in Negri Sembilan as its express bus operations could no longer subsidise them.

[TRANSIT: These are the circumstances of a poorly-managed industry.]

KTB executive director Tengku Hasmadi Tengku Hashim said the consortium, which owns 1,500 buses, had over the years been providing “social service” subsidised by its profitable express bus operations.

“But the Government’s move to issue express bus permits to many new players covering lucrative routes, particularly over the past five years, affected our revenue from express bus operations.

[TRANSIT: And why did the government, through the CVLB, issue more permits for an already saturated industry? Especially in the last few years?]

“Our group has been registering continued losses because our express bus operations were not making enough to subsidise our stage bus business.”

“Since the new operators are not obliged to provide stage bus services, they have not been badly affected like us,” he told The Star.

KTB has stopped servicing all but a few of its routes in the state, in-cluding the Seremban-Kuala Pilah-Bahau, Seremban-Port Dickson and Seremban-Kuala Lumpur expressways.

Tengku Hasmadi, who met Land Public Transport Commission officers yesterday, said he had written to the Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Selangor, Penang and Negri Sembilan governments early this year on the company’s predicament.

“We told them that we cannot continue with the stage bus service any more as our operating expenditure had increased significantly while the fares are controlled by the Government,” he said.

TRANSIT Says:

The more we read, the worse the news gets. Now it becomes clear that our unregulated stage bus industry and unregulated express bus industry are not complementing each other as the government was hoping for. And to make it even clearer, without more support and oversight from SPAD and state governments, the industry is not going to survive.

SPAD asks other bus firms to help out (The Star)
Friday November 18, 2011

PETALING JAYA: The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) will ask other bus operators to take over Konsortium Transnasional Berhad’s (KTB) routes for the time being.

“We need to get buses running along those roads. We have spoken to various operators to ask them to try and step in immediately as an interim measure.

“The immediate priority is to ensure that members of the public do not suffer because of the termination,” SPAD chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar said in a press statement yesterday.

[TRANSIT: Why did SPAD wait until after the termination to step in and resolve the problems?]

He added that the commission had organised a meeting with KTB on Nov 18 to discuss its decision to stop operations.

“All parties realise that there is no easy solution to the problem,” said Syed Hamid, adding that bus operators must “scrutinise their internal processes and plug any leakages”.

The Peninsular Malaysia Transport Workers Union said the consortium should not have stopped services and choose to operate only lucrative routes.

[TRANSIT: The Transport Workers Union is stepping in too? Where have they been?]

“The non-profitable routes should be a social service,” said union secretary-general Datuk Zainal Rampak.

[TRANSIT: No! We should not categorize routes as “profitable” or “non-profitable”. There are no “social service” bus routes. What we need is a complete and comprehensive public transport system that is seen as a public utility, with services provided by private companies. Why is the Transport Workers Union continuing to push an old, outmoded and ineffective perception of public transport?]
He added that most of the routes deemed unprofitable are those in rural areas, used by poor passengers without cars.

He said SPAD should have monitored the situation closely and taken proactive measures.

“Isn’t this the main reason SPAD was formed, that is to improve the quality of public transport?” Zainal asked.

[TRANSIT: Well, at least we can agree on that point.]

TRANSIT Says:

And the bellyaching continues. When do we get to the problem solving? Where is the real “transformation” that we have been told the government is doing? And when will the “Bus Transformation Plan” start being implemented?

The Original Articles:

Bus operators cease services along many routes in Seremban to cut losses (The Star)
Thursday November 17, 2011
By SARBAN SINGH, ROSLINA MOHAMAD and JOSEPH KAOS Jr
newsdesk@thestar.com.my

SEREMBAN: A consortium of bus companies in Negri Sembilan has abruptly stopped its services along at least 12 routes here, following a nationwide trend that is expected to continue as scores of operators complain of losing money because of dwindling passengers.

The thousands of people stranded for hours yesterday are unlikely to have their problems resolved quickly as the consortium, the largest concession holder in the state, is adamant that it will not ply unprofitable routes.

The consortium had informed the state government of its intention via a memorandum three days ago while it continued to serve profitable routes including the Seremban-Port Dickson and Seremban-Kuala Lumpur expressways.

[TRANSIT: This is what happens with a lack of clear policy on public transport – especially related to bus services – which is something that TRANSIT has been calling for over the past 4+ years!]

A visibly upset Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said the bus operators were wrong in stopping services with little warning, inconveniencing so many people who depend on them for their transport.

“You cannot give us three days’ notice and expect us to source for alternative transport for the people. It is also just not right for you to continue servicing only the profitable routes,” he said.

[TRANSIT: And yet, state governments are also in the wrong for abrogating their responsibility to plan transport services and ensure that there is public transport available. When you give up responsibility to private companies and central government regulators, you accept the unpredicatable consequences.

Oh yeah, and TRANSIT has been trying to encourage state governments to take on a more real and proactive role in public transport – but no state governments with the exception of Penang have taken any steps forward in this area.]

Among the services that were terminated were the Seremban-Nilai-KLIA, Port Dickson-Telok Kemang, Seremban to Tampin, Rantau, Senawang, Linggi, Sikamat, Rasah Jaya and Kajang routes.

Mohamad said he would meet the company officials in the next few days to sort out the issue.

He said the authorities needed to know if the company’s losses were caused by low passenger volume or other factors.

“If a particular route is not profitable, we can always discuss alternatives. But we cannot make the people wait for a bus that is never going to turn up,” he said.

Asked about a request by the consortium for the state government to subsidise its operations, Mohamad said: “It could be considered”.

“They can submit their request to us, but they should not terminate the service and only then talk to us.”

When contacted, Land Public Transport Commission chief operating officer Azhar Ahmad said the operators would be called in the next few days for a “discussion”.

“We will be calling them this week to ask why they have stopped serving those routes,” he said.

In KUANTAN, the Pahang Government is considering a cross-subsidy package to help bus companies that are reported to be running at a loss and facing bankruptcy.

[TRANSIT: What about KTB cross-subsidizing its own operations? Shouldn’t profitable companies have a responsibility to the community?]

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said the state executive council had discussed the problems faced by operators plying various town routes and was looking into the possibility of allocating them a property development project as part of a cross-subsidy deal.

“Earnings from developing the property can make up for the losses incurred in operating town bus services,” he said after closing the International Conference on Islam and Higher Education yesterday.

Although some may look upon bus services as a “sunset business”, they were essential and the state wanted to help keep them going, he said.

[TRANSIT: Subsidy is a dirty word. The federal government is already subsidizing (through low-interest loans for cars and subsidized petrol) inefficient private transportation which is competing with public transport services. Now the state governments are going to subsidize public transport? Why not find a more efficient way to get public transport and private transport working together – let the users of private transport pay the full costs of their services and use the money that is being paid to subsidize the private transport industry and instead use it to help make public transport more reliable.

It is complicated but it is not impossible to do.]

A meeting with the bus operators would be held and a working paper would be prepared on the subsidy scheme and how it should be implemented, Adnan said, adding: “Feedback from the operators is crucial.”

[TRANSIT: feedback from public transport users and taxpayers is also essential!]

He said the bus companies running at a loss included operators in Kuantan, Janda Baik, Bentong and Jengka in Maran.

TRANSIT Says:

We are shocked and disappointed, not only by the actions of this subsidiary of KTB, but their lack of consultation of other stakeholders in the public transport industry before making this unilateral shut down of public transport service.

We are unhappy with state governments that continue to ignore the need for reform in public transport and the need to improve public transport policy. And we wonder why state governments have not taken steps to resolve these issues.

And, as you can imagine, we are disappointed in SPAD and the government for focusing on the MRT project in the Klang Valley and not focusing on working to actively resolve the policy issues in the public transport industry before we get to this state!

Thousands left stranded after consortium stops services to unprofitable routes (The Star)

SEREMBAN: Bus companies made good yet again their threat to stop plying unprofitable routes when a major consortium in Negri Sembilan abruptly ceased serving several areas in the state.

While thousands of commuters were stranded for hours yesterday, the Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association warned that more stage bus services nationwide will be terminated by month’s end if the Government does not bail them out from “bleeding losses”.

[TRANSIT: How about working to bail yourselves out – merge your companies, reduce overhead, increase efficiencies and they start talking about support from the government.]

Last month, the association wrote to the heads of six state governments Negri Sembilan, Kelantan, Kedah, Perak, Penang and Pahang that 17 bus companies will terminate operating 80 routes soon if the Government does not buy over their operations.

The Land Public Transport Commission has said that it will call the operators in the next few days for “discussions”.

[TRANSIT: Discussions? And what, pray tell, will public transport users do in the meantime? SPAD and the government should be ashamed for not paying attention to the clear signs of trouble in the industry and focus on improving the problems rather than pushing the MRT project!]

Advances in rail transport have benefited Malaysian commuters, but not bus operators, who feel the competition keenly even as they struggle with spiralling operations and maintenance costs.

TRANSIT Says:

We warned the State Governments years ago that they needed to be proactive about public transport. We said that it was important to get the Federal government to resolve the issues in the public transport industry.

We hoped that the arrival of SPAD meant that the problems in the public transport industry would be resolved with the biggest problems (buses and taxis) resolved first.

More stage bus services nationwide may be dropped (The Star)

PETALING JAYA: More stage bus services nationwide will be terminated by month-end, like what has taken place in Seremban, if the government does not bail them out, the Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association warned.

Its president Datuk Ashfar Ali said stage bus operators have, since December last year, pleaded to the Government to buy over its businesses as it could not cope with “bleeding losses”.

“Last month, we wrote to the heads of six state governments that about 80 bus routes, involving 400 buses, belonging to 17 bus companies will have to cease operation by the end of this month if the Government does not buy over their operations,” said Ashfar, when contacted.

The six states are Negri Sembilan, Kelantan, Kedah, Perak, Penang and Pahang.

“There has not been any response from any of them.

“Today, several stage buses in Seremban had to terminate their services because they cannot cope with the losses,” Ashfar said.

“We apologise to the commuters but the bus operators could no longer handle the situation.”

Ashfar said that a Negri Sembilan bus company serving two routes in Tampin had to close shop.

“They could not even pay their employees compensation,” he said.

Ashfar said the Malacca government, however, had agreed to buy over stage bus companies and will begin operating in 2012.

[TRANSIT: Subsidies? Government takeovers? This was not part of the Bus Transformation Plan that SPAD was talking about. Perhaps they didn’t have time to completely develop their own plans before the crisis hit.

Not to mention this frightening possibility – that in a crisis situation different state governments will take individual approaches to resolve the problems – creating more inconsistencies in public transport policy and making SPAD even less relevant.]

He added that employees of the bus companies were even given compensation by the state government.

“I hope the other heads of (state) government will follow what the Malacca chief minister (Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam) has done.

“Not only were the bus operators able to sell their buses and pay off their creditors, but commuters were also assured of continued bus services,” Ashfar said.

[TRANSIT: And taxpayers are assured of a continued financial burden, with no guarantee of improvement to public transport services. We need consistent public transport policy first!]

Ashfar said the association had written to the Prime Minister, the Transport Minister and the Land Public Transport Commission, but received no “encouraging response”.

In May, The Star reported that hundreds of locations nationwide will be without transport as companies which are members of the association had stopped operating.

Stage bus operators have been hit hard by spiralling operations and maintenance costs and the competition from rail transport.

TRANSIT Says:

We have to wonder, how much worse are things going to get before they get better?

And we wonder, are the bus companies (which are already staring into the abyss) ready to work with SPAD and support the elements of the Bus Transformation Plan and making changes to public transport policy to improve.

Ladies & Gentlemen, the bus industry in Malaysia is in a total crisis. The stakeholders were either caught unawares (SPAD), off in la-la-land (Bus Operators) or completely in denial (State & local governments). And public transport users, the last stakeholder group … well, what is wrong with us? Is it ignorance or apathy?

Here are some of the letters that have been written:

Letter: No way to treat the travelling public (The Star)
19 November 2011

IT was shocking to read about the abrupt termination of certain bus services in Negri Sembilan. Cityliner stopped servicing routes it deemed unprofitable.

Did the bus company think of the inconvenience and hardship it would cause to those who depended on its services?

This being the public examination season, my heart goes out to all those outstation school children who depend on the bus service to Seremban to take their SPM and STPM examinations.

The bus company’s action has damaged the mental preparations of these students and caused them unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Not only were the students affected but also office workers and others who use the bus.

This is a very high handed way to resolve issues, and this is because of the monopolistic nature of
the business itself, where Cityliner is the sole operator.

I call upon the authorities to come down hard on the company and issue licences to other companies that are interested in the business.

DISGUSTED,

Mantin, Negri Sembilan.


TRANSIT Says:

Thank you to @Disgusted. We’re disgusted too!

Letter: Bus system the victim of neglect (The Star)
Friday November 18, 2011

IT is shocking that the Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar is upset at the three-day notice given before bus services were stopped (“End of the road for passengers” – The Star, Nov 17).

The Federation of Malaysia Consumers Associations (Fomca) and the bus operators had been warning over and over again that if the public transport issues are not resolved, this would be the consequence: bus companies would end their services due to its non-viability.

We had even proposed a subsidy model that would create a viable public transport industry and an affordable and reliable service for commuters. This was not done three days ago.

It is unfortunate that all our requests and demands have fallen on deaf ears.

SPAD has become an authority not for public transport but for the MRT.

Too much money is being spent on huge transportation infrastructure projects. The builders and concessionaires rake in millions. The fundamental bus system is being neglected and commuters continue to suffer.

Public transport is not rocket science. Many developing countries have been exemplary in building viable and reliable public services.

Fomca’s nationwide survey clearly indicates that next to increasing food prices, public transport is the primary concern not only of consumers in the Klang Valley but throughout the country.

The 2012 Budget has certainly not addressed the public transport issue adequately.

The termination of bus services has reached Seremban. Where next?

[TRANSIT: Where next? Indeed, who will face the next problems as the collapse of the industry spreads nationwide?]

SPAD needs to have competent members to seriously address the public transport issue.

Appointments to the commission should be based on specialisation, relevance and genuine interest, not an opportunity to reward some officials.

Fomca calls on the minister concerned to take public transport to understand the plight of the rakyat.

Please do not wait for the Prime Minster to go by bus or take the train and then make a meaningless statement that the service would improve.

Cabinet Ministers too should take public transport once in a while. Please do not announce it beforehand, otherwise on that day the service will be super great.

DATUK PAUL SELVA RAJ,

CEO, Fomca.

TRANSIT Says:
Thank you to Paul Selva Raj & FOMCA for expressing the problems and issues from their perspective.

Letter: Profit models abound (The Star)
Friday November 18, 2011

I REFER to “Bus stopped” (The Star, Nov 17). It is disconcerting to read that the bus companies are not making enough money and are relying on the state government to bail them out.

We need to understand the issues undermining the bus industry.

A recent study lists profitability, legal standards, bus drivers’ etiquette, unreliable bus schedules, poor connectivity, lack of information on routes and changes of routes, poor maintenance of buses and safety issues.

All these have led to huge problems in the bus transportation industry today.

For profitability, a more robust business model needs to be adopted to reflect the current business environment in the transportation industry, especially to offset rising fuel prices.

If our local low-cost airline can weather the uncertainties in jet fuel price, why can’t bus companies learn and innovate to survive in the industry?

Let’s be creative and innovative instead of asking the Government to take over all bus services, bail them out or provide monetary help to sustain their businesses.

Research has shown that the best system for bus operations is through private operations, as found in both developing and developed countries.

Government-owned monopolies and unregulated competition usually result in high costs, ineffective management, poor decision making and poor services.

Research also shows bus companies should take advantage of the current shift in the transport industry, where there is rising demand for public transportation due to rising fuel prices, traffic congestion, increasing urbanisation, rising highway expansion costs, health and environmental concerns, and population growth in urban and suburban areas that continue to generate the need for better public bus services and more routes.

With the formation of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), the standard of public transport will be raised to support the Economic Transformation Programme.

The ideal situation will be a reliable service, shorter commuting time, comfortable buses, timely information on bus routes and bus arrival times, comprehensive transport policies, regulated competition and stricter enforcement against illegal operators.

The strategy needed to enhance public transport is not an impossible mission.

Other developing countries and developed countries have had great success in providing state-of-the-art bus services to the public.

Let’s learn from them and emulate what is appropriate locally. Let’s deal with the issues in a logical, pragmatic and transparent way by taking into consideration the interests of all key stakeholders.

All of us in Malaysia have a right to an efficient and affordable public transport system.

It is time that all stakeholders strategise and act effectively to give us that ideal state.

[TRANSIT: This is something that TRANSIT has been calling for over the past 4 years and even before TRANSIT was formed, our members were calling for the stakeholders to be brought together, the problems identified, and solutions to be implemented]

Dr SHANKAR CHELLIAH,

George Town.

TRANSIT Says:
Thank you to Dr. Shankar Chelliah for pointing out that public transport can be profitable and effective with good policy and planning models.

Over to you, SPAD.

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