Bus commuters are smiling, but not bus operators

A bus driver waiting patiently for passengers.

SIBU: Stage buses here are back in business after a break of more than two months following the movement control order (MCO) which was enforced on March 18 to control the spread of Covid-19.

There is good news for commuters. They get to enjoy a flat rate fare of RM1 till year end, courtesy of a state government subsidy.

But while commuters can afford to smile all the way to their destination, it’s a different scenario for the bus operators — no thanks to the coronavirus.

Sarawak Bus Transport Company Association adviser Lau Khing Seng lamented the lack of commuters, saying “people have accepted the norm of not taking the bus after a two-month service stoppage”.

“It is good that the government is subsidising the fare. But if the response from the people is poor like what we see today for the next few months, we will be making a big loss. 

“To break even we need at least 50 per cent capacity for each trip,” he said.

But despite the poor response, bus companies will still need to operate, he added.

Lau said that in Sibu, three bus companies have resumed operations today, namely Lanang Road Bus Companies, Teku Bus Companies and Sungai Merah Bus Companies.

The routes covered are Jalan Lanang, Jalan Teku, Sibujaya, Jalan Sentosa and Sibu Hospital.

As for bus operators in Kuching, he said only a few resumed operations today.

Meanwhile, the ambiguity of the subsidised RM1 flat rate fare has bus companies thinking twice about resuming the long-distance routes, such as the Sibu-Tanjung Manis route, which is an hour’s journey.

“The bus fare to Tanjung Manis costs more than RM10. As we have not being clearly informed about the fare for the longer routes, we will not restart this service anytime soon,” Lau said.

He, however, was quick to point out that the RM1 flat rate should continue up to next year for the benefit of the poor.