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Move forwards, not backwards to solve our public transport crisis (Update #1)

Update: Azmi Sharom wants you to buzz your rep on the bus issue!

TRANSIT has taken note of the following letters in the newspapers regarding the public transport crisis – suggesting that the crisis could be resolved with the introduction of van services and owner-operated minibuses.

While TRANSIT appreciates the suggestions, and appreciate that vans and minibuses still have a role in our public transport mix, we do not believe that vans and minibuses by themselves are an effective solution for our public transport problems. Unregulated vans & minibuses cannot replace stage buses, have created problems in the past (and will likely create more problems in the future), and do not resolve the fundamental problems in the industry – a lack of organization & leadership.

The articles (in full) and comments from TRANSIT can be found after the jump…

Vans a viable option (The Star)
Thursday December 15, 2011

ONE of the main reasons why stage buses face the perennial problem of losses is that costs – of the buses, maintenance and operations – have increased drastically but ridership, apart from during peak hours, is very low as almost everyone in the Klang Valley owns a private vehicle.

Apparently, this is because of the unreliability of public transport.

In addition, pilferage of bus fare collections had further reduced the revenue of the bus firms.

The Government has to come up with a solution as no amount of subsidies can put stage bus transport back on an even keel.

The good old days of such bus companies as Foh Hup, Toong Fong, Selangor, Len, etc, which were privately owned yet very profitable, are not going to return.

The Government had meddled with this efficient system of private bus companies and is now paying a heavy price with endless subsidies and write-offs.

Look at the school buses. Are they running at a loss despite making only four trips maximum (both sessions) a day and are idle during the weekends and school holidays?

[TRANSIT: Are they? Well, perhaps the school buses could be run more efficiently, but one would have to do significant research to find out how many trips the average school bus operator makes on a daily/weekly basis.]

It is time to think of other ways, such as using vans carrying about 8-12 passengers as the main means of public transport for the congested Klang Valley as well as where private ownership of vehicles is high.

The cost and maintenance of vans is very much less and, most of all, it can be owner-operated which increases profitability. Vans, if sanctioned, will provide employment and income for thousands.

[TRANSIT: That assumes that the competition among the vans will still allow enough revenue to make the business viable … and with assurance that SPAD will not create an oversupply in the industry as the CVLB did in the past. If there are 30,000 plus taxi permits issued for the Klang Valley and taxi drivers claim they cannot make a living, how successful will vans be?]

The main aim of transport is to take a person or thing from Point A to Point B and whether it is done by buses or vans does not matter, and if vans are more viable why not use vans?

[TRANSIT: Not exactly. Transit trips can be as varied as the people who take them. Not to mention, buses are simply more efficient than vans in moving people.]

Vans can ply short and long routes and can go into any nook and corner in the housing estates, industrial and commercial areas, and other places where government offices, supermarkets, hospitals schools, etc, are located.

They can also provide a good feeder service to the LRT, monorail, MRT and KTM Komuter.

[TRANSIT: While minibuses and vans appear to be more functional, buses are still more efficient at moving passengers and the cost per passenger kilometer traveled is lower. The only place where vans and minibuses have an advantage is their flexibility and small size (for small, constrained areas only). On “main roads” and highways, where most of our buses operate, the buses will be far more efficient.]

Many large towns and cities overseas rely on vans for an efficient public transport. Locally, vans transport a large number of workers, and their safety record is reasonably good.

With more than a million foreign workers who rely on public transport to get around in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, vans can become very profitable and can ply even the less popular and rural routes.

[TRANSIT: The problem is that the introduction of these vans &  minibuses would provide more problems for the stage buses that already ply these routes. The opportunity for cross-subsidy is far lower than one would assume, and most importantly, who will be the authority and provide planning, organization & enforcement?]

There is no point for the government to think of other so-called solutions for stage buses. Stage buses are fast becoming history, and there is no point throwing good money after bad.

Hundreds of millions of ringgit are pumped into the stage bus sector every few years but there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

[TRANSIT: That is because the government still wants to throw money at the industry rather than resolving the problems directly. Most of the solutions are “top down” and focuses on the needs of the operators, rather than the needs of the whole industry.]

Let the privately owned vans take over from the stage buses and benefit the large number of commuters who now appear to be stranded by Cityliner’s cessation of services. This will relieve the Government of a major headache and expenditure.

[TRANSIT: The interesting thing is that this crisis may change the face of the public transport industry in Malaysia, just as a bus operators strike in the 1960s that led to the introduction of mini-bus/maxi-van service in Hong Kong … services which still operate today. But KL is not Hong Kong and we should not assume that vans & minibuses can successfully replace stage buses.]

It is hoped that the Land Public Transport Commission will think out of the box to overcome the problem.


Sg. Buloh, Selangor.


We like V. Thomas’ perspective on the issues in the industry and realizes that the problem is with government regulation and competition. However, his suggestion that vans & minibuses replace the stage buses is not really effective.

Consider option of driver-owned mini buses (The Star)
Friday December 16, 2011

THE disruption and cessation of bus services around the country must be terrible for those who solely depend on buses as their only means of transportation.

For the lower income group and the migrant labour force, buses are their only means of cheap travel from point A to point B.

The use of vans (“Vans a viable option” – The Star, Dec 15) is viable if you have a particular number of people going to the same place, as on Pangkor island. Holiday makers take a van (taxi as it is called) from the jetty to the beach at Pasir Bogak.

[TRANSIT: But those operators do not work regularly and rely on the tourist dollar to make revenue during certain periods. We are looking for solutions that will provide more stable income sources for operators and provide more reliable services that meet customer needs.]

In the case of public transport, where getting on and off is frequent, I would suggest that SPAD get DRB-Hicom to design a vehicle similar to a mini bus with entry and exit doors that are operated by the driver. This will facilitate a smooth flow of passengers and the driver himself can collect the fare.

[TRANSIT: The last thing we need is a specially designed minibus … or specially designed taxi that will give DRB-Hicom (now an owner of a majority share in Proton) millions of RM in “research & development money” that will likely go to waste.]

Another important factor is that the bus licence and permit should be given to bus drivers who have been retrenched by the existing bus companies. It should be privately owned and only one bus permit per driver. There should not be any group or company involved.

[TRANSIT: The permit system already is supposed to work like this, but somehow certain parties who are not operators have ended up with large numbers of permits which they ‘pajak‘ out to others in a form of rent-seeking activity. This provides a challenge to enforce because the permit owners are able to claim that they are not responsible when the operator makes a mistake. Now, SPAD is introducing a new permit system where one operator will receive one permit but can operate as many vehicles as they can afford. We will comment about that in a subsequent post.]

These buses should be painted in the same colour, as well as display our 1Malaysia logo.

[TRANSIT: 1Malaysia minibuses? Seriously?]

As for the route it should be specific, say, Meru-Setia Alam-Meru.

There should be no limit to the number of trips that the drivers can make and they can ply their routes even in the wee hours. Being the owner, the driver would see to it that he makes as many trips as he can to fill his pocket.

[TRANSIT: That is based on a lot of assumptions … most of which have been proven wrong. More importantly, driver-focused service does not necessarily provide reliable service.]

Any driver found to be deviating from his route would have his permit revoked. This would ensure strong ethics among the drivers.

[TRANSIT: And who would monitor and enforce these regulations?]

The Government should create a “Bus1Malaysia Fund” to help drivers purchase their vehicles.

[TRANSIT: Seriously? another 1Malaysia fund? And how quickly will that fund be abused?]

Shah Alam.


Walprem has some interesting suggestions, but the problem is that there are too many assumptions in the letter that have been disproven by the day-to-day operations of the public transport industry.

We probably liked V. Thomas’ ideas better than Walprem’s … simply because we do see a role for vans & minibuses in providing local public transport services and feeder services, replacing the trips currently made by taxis. Indeed, TRANSIT wants to see the 30,000 plus taxi permits reduced by approximately 10,000 and 50% of those taxis replaced by vans that provide extremely local feeder services that take people out of and around their housing estates.

Resolve crisis quickly for passengers’ sake (NST, 16 December 2011)

THE transport crisis involving a consortium of bus companies in Negri Sembilan should be resolved fast as it affects people in the lower-income group, who are dependent on its services.

The operators of the consortium had abruptly stopped plying routes that were making losses.

One solution is for the operators of the unprofitable routes to introduce mini buses to service the routes, instead of the huge buses that ply the routes with few passengers.

Mini buses would be a better option in Seremban for routes that are not so profitable.

Mini buses would also be better able to service housing schemes in Rasah Jaya, Sikamat, Temiang, Rahang and Senawang.

A survey should be done to gauge the number of passengers at appropriate times of the day at bus stops and bus routes.

The bus operators should put up time schedules at the bus stops so that commuters would be better informed of their services.

Most of the town bus services are run at the whims and fancies of the driver and conductor.

It is common to see people waiting at the bus stops for long periods. Bus schedules are not on display.

Bus stops should be in good condition and have notices and information on the buses servicing the routes, and the time schedule should be displayed at the bus stops.

Buses must follow the schedule strictly so that the service is effective.

Read more: PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Resolve crisis quickly for passengers’ sake – Letters to the Editor – New Straits Times


Once again, these service solutions that TRANSIT wants to implement are contingent on the provision of better organization and management – and that requires the creation of a local public transport organizing authority that will have these functions.

No matter what, if we do not have proper regulation of the public transport industry, any solution that the government or the operators try to implement will not be successful.

2 replies on “Move forwards, not backwards to solve our public transport crisis (Update #1)”

“One driver, one bus permit … ” does not work. Who is then to schedule the trips?Everybody will run the buses only on peak hours. What happen to off-peak? It is better to let company operates, so we can have buses the whole day. The problem with the stage buses is explaned in today’s newspapaer, page 15 of New Straits Time.


Thanks for the observations. That is one of the problems that no one seems to be walking about, despite all the so-called solutions that people are pretending to implement.

Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

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