Bus companies driven to desperation

The restrictions that have been imposed over the last year have been devastating for bus companies. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: The head of the umbrella body for Malaysian bus operators has painted a grim picture for the industry but says he can accept the pain in the short term in hopes of a better future.

Mohamad Ashfar Ali, president of the Pan-Malaysian Bus Operators Association, said the restrictions that had been imposed over the last year had been devastating for bus companies.

“For express buses, revenue loss has basically been 100% when interstate travel is banned because they just don’t operate,” he told FMT. “The same goes for companies servicing routes to Thailand and Singapore.”

Even for stage buses operating within state borders, he said, broad restrictions had greatly reduced their collections.

Mohamad Ashfar Ali.

“For them, it would be around 50% of normal business because people are working from home, schools haven’t been in full swing and people are still apprehensive about taking public transport.”

Most of the bus companies are not eligible for loan moratoriums because they finance their vehicles from credit companies operating under the Money Lenders Act.

Ashfar’s organisation has written to the government on a number of occasions about the struggles faced by the industry, but he said there had been only silence from Putrajaya.

“Half of the bus operators may not survive by the time interstate borders reopen,” he said.

“We have told the government we will need funds to restart full operations for things like maintenance since these vehicles have just been sitting around for so long. But we’ve heard nothing so far from the relevant ministries.”

He said he didn’t expect state borders to reopen until July but added that it would take up to a year for things to return to pre-pandemic levels since travellers would take time to get comfortable with public transport again.

With “easily 60% to 70%” of workers in the industry falling under the B40 category, he said, many had already changed course to drive Grab cars, sell food or work in factories.

However, he is hoping the sacrifices will pay dividends after the suffering of the next few months.

“We can’t rush,” he said. “There needs to be some short term pain in order to enjoy the fruits in the long run.

“Hopefully, with more people getting vaccinated, maybe in a few months’ time the virus will be under control and everything will work out.”