A commuter buying a ticket at Sibu Bus Terminal.

SIBU: Sarawak Bus Transport Company Association is appealing to the Transport Ministry to allow bus operators in Sarawak to implement the cashless payment system in the near future, and not now.

Sarawak Bus Transport Company Association adviser Lau Khing Seng said the system should only be implemented in another five years.

He said the government should understand the situation in Sarawak first before asking bus companies to go cashless.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke on Jan 16 said all bus operators would be required to provide a cashless payment system before they receive the subsidy.

“We will give them some time to make the changes. If they fail to do so, we will review the subsidy agreement,” Loke was quoted as saying.

Lau, in responding to Loke, said the scenario in Sarawak was totally different from that of the Peninsular, and thus the system was either not practical or could only be implemented after five years.

“The majority of people using buses in Sarawak are mostly the poor and the elderly, including those from rural areas,” he said.

Lau, who has been in the bus transportation business for 33 years, said these groups of people were not tech savvy, and thus, it would be a disaster to ask them to go cashless.

“The right way for them is to continue paying bus fares by cash,” he said, adding that if the ministry fully enforced the cashless system, bus operators would suffer as the subsidy would be removed from them.

A commuter buying a ticket at Sibu Bus Terminal.

The operating costs for the business, he said, were already very high and without the subsidy, he feared that some operators might have to reduce the number of buses.

“The monthly petrol bill for each bus is RM5,000 to RM6,000. Remember that we have to pay for the staff salary, maintenance of the bus, road tax and tyres.

“Every operator has been struggling to stay afloat as business has dwindled by 30 to 40 per cent these few years due to people using e-hailing services and also illegal taxis,” he said.

There are about 12 bus operators in Sarawak ― three each in Sibu and Miri, five in Kuching and one in Sarikei.

Lau said even in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, cash was still king when it comes to paying bus fares as the respective governments had not made it mandatory for operators to go cashless.

Separately on solving traffic congestion in the city, he suggested that the government implement the free bus service through bus operators for two years first.

“This can be done by giving bus transportation card of RM30 each to the aforesaid commuters and RM50 card to youths.

“This will encourage the public to take public transport instead of driving to the city. When this can be done, the cashless system can come in place, possibly in five years’ time,” Lau said.