The Sun yesterday revealed the news that four out of five buses that are running on Malaysian roads may be unsafe.
Risky bus rides
BY Pauline Wong
PETALING JAYA (Dec 7, 2010): Several tragic bus accidents this year have raised concerns about the vehicles’ safety standards. Shockingly, transport regulators say 80% of the more than 40,000 buses of various types plying our roads may be in breach of safety regulations.
Many of the buses on the roads are not R66 compliant.
Old buses are “recycled” into stage buses and school buses.
Road Transport Department head of automotive engineering Mohamad Dalib said it had been an uphill task getting smaller bus manufacturers to adhere to the United Nations Economic Commissions Europe (UNECE) R66 vehicle safety regulation adopted in 2007.
The R66 is a safety standard for the manufacturing of the bus body as a whole unit, not as sub-components which are welded to each other. By law, as of November 2007, all buses must comply with R66. In reality, this may be far from so.
Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) director-general Prof Dr Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah said conventionally, buses were built locally on top of the
chassis bought from known manufacturers. “There was not much control over the quality of bus bodies until the government announced the implementation of UNECE R66 rule to ensure stronger superstructure of bus,” he told theSun.
The ruling was imposed after 22 people died in a crash at Bukit
Gantang on Aug 13, 2007 when an express bus crashed into a guardrail and plunged into a ravine.
A UNECE report on R66 based on post-accident research by Miros showed that there were critical failures to the structure of that bus, which was more than 20 years old, had been welded together. The same report also showed two other accidents in 2007 and 2008 in which 18 others died were due to failure to comply with R66.
The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board said 41,273 bus licences have been issued to date. Of this, 33,203 were issued before 2007 and not R66-compliant.
Mohamad said high cost was the main reason many bus companies did not comply with R66. “To comply is to, quite literally, buy a whole new bus,” he said. “The entire superstructure must be replaced. The cost is RM480,000 minimum, per bus.”
Also, he said, when it came to testing for R66 compliance, it was difficult to get truthful and accurate results.
“There are two ways to test a bus for structural integrity: a rollover test and a simulation test. The roll-over test is costly and involves submitting the bus to a crash test. As for the simulation test, the results can be faked,” he said, adding that it was had for the RTD to determine the exact number of faked results.
Mohamad also explained that Malaysian buses were never truly retired. CVLB regulations state that buses older than seven years can no longer be used as express buses.
After that, most are recycled. “After seven years, express buses are turned into other types of buses, such as charter, stop-and-go, factory or school buses,” he explained.
Thus, some school buses are more than 30 years old and still ply the roads. The interior of the buses are changed or refurbished, but the structure, and safety concerns, remain.
Road Safety Department director-general Datuk Suret Singh said that one of the five codes under safety, health and environment was vehicle safety management, which encompassed the design, strength, roadworthiness of the vehicle and protection to the passenger.
“The protection zone around the passenger – the bus cabin – must be strong. In a crash, it must remain
intact to safeguard the passengers. If it collapses it will cause deaths and severe injury,” he said. — theSun
Another interview with the chief of Malaysia’s largest independent bus fleet operator paints another picture. He said all the fleets will be compliant to Europe’s R66 rollover protection standards, although we at TRANSIT knows well many of past Transnasional’s fleets were sold off as chartered/factory/school buses – and doubt exists on whether these recycled buses are built to withstand rollover crashes such as the recent Genting accident.
Good, bad and ugly
By Pauline Wong
PETALING JAYA (Dec 7, 2010): THE fact that many buses on the road are not R66 compliant does not mean they are unsafe as there were existing safety standards on the build of the buses.
Konsortium Transnasional Berhad (KTB) executive director Tengku Hasmadi Tengku Hashim said R66 is to reinforce the standards already in place by RTD and Sirim previously.
The KTB group is one of the largest bus operators in the country, with over 700 buses under the group; namely, the Transnasional, Plusliner and Nice buses.
“Nice and Transnasional were the first to comply with the Australian Design Rules (ADR, similiar to R66), from 2005. It was then followed by the Plusliner buses in 2006 with R66 standards. The Plusliner buses were produced by SKS Coach Builders, which was certified by UNECE after a live simulation test involving a real bus,” said Tengku Hasmadi.
“Only about 150 Transnasional buses are compliant with the old RTD standards; these buses are more than six years old,” he said, adding that in three years’ time, all buses under KTB will be compliant with the new standards.
“The new standards cannot be imposed or retrofitted on to the older buses because it involves the structure of the bus and is cost prohibitive,” he explained.
Tengku Hasmadi believes the problem of safety lies with the drivers.
“The standards are not the main ingredient of safety. It saves lives and reduce major injuries when accidents happen, but the key is to prevent or reduce accidents in the first place.
“The real problem is the shortage of bus drivers, and too many bus operators (more than 250 express operators alone). Therefore, the good, average and bad drivers are all gainfully employed. If one operator fires a bad driver, he (the driver) will join one of the remaining 249 operators and the cycle goes on,” he said.
Miros’ Ahmad Farhan said that there are safety codes to follow when it comes to the drivers of these buses.
The Safety, Health and Environment code of practice as imposed by CVLB in 2008 requires bus companies to have a system to manage the safety performance of drivers, failing which the company may be charged for non-compliance,” said Farhan.
To this end, Transport Deputy Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri said that all the enforcement for the rules and regulations, including compliance to R66 and driver safety, would come under the Land Public Transport Commission, which will be fully operational by early next year. — theSun
The fact that even the CEO of the largest independent bus operator in Malaysia admits the difficulty in flushing potential road killers out of the express bus labor market tells us that our regulator friends that are supposed to enforce standards within the express bus industry did not do their job well. Permits have been given purely on entrepreneurial basis, and no immediate attention has been given towards driver’s welfare (TRANSIT wonders why there is no union to protect the interests of bus drivers), better transit network design, infrastructure and systems and transport demand management.
If only the government listens to our advice, especially on load balancing option through the usage of express/school/tour/factory buses (R66-compliant of course) for ERT routes during peak hours, we probably have a greater ‘yay’ from stakeholders on enforcing life-saving standards with immediate effect without the nagging of bus operators (for higher fares and subsidy) and users (lower fares and safer journeys). But no, RapidKL’s long haul coaches run idle most of the time, loan shark Ah Longs continues to own bus consortiums as illegal business fronts under CVLB’s noses (which explains why there are express buses running empty), and understanding in roles of independent operators have been largely ignored in our nation’s NKEA and NKRA for urban public transport and Greater KL (the only public transport improvement ‘gifts’ are MRT, MRT and MRT – after all, the 2010 NKEA urban public transport improvement target can be considered ‘achieved’ via the BET and the 4-coach LRT).
By Melissa Chi and Dinesh Kumar
The front of a bus is damaged after it was rammed by another bus. — file pic
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — Each time a horrific bus accident happens, people clamour for — and demand — that something be done.That something could be as simple as raising bus fares.
Dr Yeah Kim Leng, RAM Holdings chief economist, said there is a correlation between the low bus ticket prices and the number of accidents that involve busses.
“The controlled prices are too low and bus companies are not able to make sufficient money to improve working conditions and the upgrading of their entire operations,” he said.
Road Safety Department Director-General Datuk Suret Singh told The Malaysian Insider that bus fares were “partly deregulated and is in the process of further deregulation.”
He added that “some aspects have already been implemented. Some are in the pipeline to be followed through by SPAD (Land Public Transport Commission).”
However, Suret said that the deregulation of bus fares should be viewed “over a period from past to future” rather than at a specific “point of time.”
Yeah added that consumers would not hesitate to pay more for bus tickets, so long as there was commensurate “improvement in quality of service.”
Commuters from the lower-income group, Yeah suggested, could be provided with some form of subsidy or transportation stamp, although he was quick to add that there should not be too much emphasis on subsidy programmes.
“If you raise the price, it is also good. You have other positive effects (such as) reducing travel and pollution.
“Make the prices right. It is inevitable that bus companies try to cut cost because their welfare is not taken into consideration. In a way, it’s a market failure,” he said.
Yeah also emphasised on the need for continuous enforcement, and added that the working condition and welfare of the bus drivers must not be neglected.
“It’s an industry-wide issue, so we have to look at it at a holistic manner,” he said.
The biggest problem now is the lack of management attention and the lack of government oversight, he added.
“To ensure sufficient competition among [bus operators], the regulators also need to look at whether there’s excessive competition. If too many licences are given out to companies, making it unprofitable, that could also be the cause of it,” Yeah said.
According to the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board, 5,332 bus express licences have been issued as of March 31, 2010.
The number of accidents involving express buses went up to 2,348 cases in 2009 from 2,056 the year before, according to the Road Safety Department website.
Asides from the busses themselves, the authorities have also begun to introduce new regulations to address the personnel who operate the vehicles.
In September 2008, the Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) Code of Practice (COP) was launched by the Ministry of Transport to provide specific guidelines for employers and employees to manage health, safety and environmental issues in the transportation sector.
Like many of the existing rules governing the industry, obtaining its observance has required the authorities to take a stern approach.
“Unscrupulous operators do not take the now compulsory (since January 2010) Safety Environment and Health code (SHE) seriously and [that] is the reason why the government took the stringent step of cancellation of all permits belonging to two operators involved in the latest serious bus crashes,” Suret said.
Earlier this month, Syarikat Kuala Lumpur-Malacca Express Sdn Bhd and Syarikat Taipan Suria (MM2H) Sdn Bhd had their licences revoked by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CLVB) after express buses owned by the two companies were involved in the recent accidents — one in Melaka and another, Genting Sempah — which claimed a total of 20 lives.
In the case of the Genting Sempah accident, the bus driver involved was found to not be in possession of a valid driving licence.
Pan-Malaysia Bus Operators Association president Datuk Mohamad Ashfar Ali told The Malaysian Insider that the authorities should be stricter in upholding existing laws and policies to cut down on road accidents.
“Enforcement should be stricter, there should be more round-the-clock enforcement to put the fear into drivers, not only commercial but all drivers because other road users contribute to accidents as well,” he said.
Ashfar said the public always blamed the drivers in bus accidents without taking into consideration other contributing factors or multiplier effects.
Zulkarnain Hamzah, a representative from The Association for the Improvement of Mass Transit (Transit), a public transport proponent and watchdog, expressed dismay over the lack of progress despite the repeated accidents involving public transport industry.
“Currently, no party wants to take the ownership to gauge the operators’ performance and service standards, assess drivers’ conditions, determine transport supply and demand, and assess effectiveness of the travel corridors served by the buses,” he added. Zulkarnain then urged the government to make bus operators equip their buses with safety features such as side curtain airbags and seat belts for passengers.
Saying the cost of such technology should not be an issue, Zulkarnain added that these must be compared to the cost in terms of lost productivity arising from the “premature deaths of our young, aspiring youths whose hope we depend on to bring this country to a greater future.”
He pointed out that Malaysia continued to lag behind other governments that have enforced more stringent measures such as safety and quality audit systems, universal wire rope safety barriers, safer bus chassis standards, speed limiters, and passenger restraint systems.
“With tight regulatory enforcement and clever load balancing options, express bus operators can compete in a healthy environment without the need of any price ceiling,” he said.