GO KL was launched on Aug 31, 2012 by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), providing free bus service for two routes in Kuala Lumpur.
The route from KLCC to Bukit Bintang was named the Green Line, and Purple Line from Pasar Seni to Bukit Bintang.
Two additional routes were launched on May 1, 2014. The Red Line from KL Sentral to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Blue Line from Medan Mara to Bukit Bintang.
All four routes are within the central business district of Kuala Lumpur with 65 stops for passengers to hop on and off the buses.
Rich and poor Malaysians, foreign workers and tourists travelling in GO KL buses would naturally be happy, but not those missing out on free rides.
They include Malaysians travelling on other routes and taxpayers who think their contribution to the Government’s coffer could be better utilised.
In 2014, free bus services were launched by Shah Alam City Council in March and Petaling Jaya City Council in July. The state government also got into the act by launching “Bas Selangorku” on July 1, 2015, to serve parts of Shah Alam, Subang Jaya and Klang.
On April 26, 2016, The Star published a report titled “Poor response to Klang’s free buses”.
After nine months of operations, Klang Consumer Association president A. Devadass said it was a waste of public funds as the buses were not serving the needy and old folk.
But by Sept 24, 2017, the Selangor government launched the 100th “Bas Selangorku”, now known as “Smart Selangor Bus”.
It entered the Malaysia Book of Records for the “Most Number of Free Shuttle Bus Services Provided by State Government” with 546,661 passengers in 2015, 4,163,654 passengers in 2016, and 6,024,044 passengers until Aug 31 last year.
Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said the total cost for the Smart Selangor Bus programme until last September was RM42.53mil, with RM33.53mil paid by the state government and RM9mil by local authorities.
Buses are like moving billboards and having an organisation’s name or message on them is extravagant, if used to boost the ego.
Many of those who have invested into tour buses found out too late that the returns do not justify the money and time invested. Likewise, state governments must take cognisance of the hidden costs before using free bus service to win popularity contests. Moreover, the high number of foreign workers and tourists who have enjoyed free bus service is not translated into votes.
It would be much better to provide free bus services or concession fares to interested Malaysians who qualify. A good example is the MyRapid Touch & Go card that offers concessions to senior citizens, the disabled and students.
SPAD should introduce and instal standardised card payment machines on all stage buses in peninsular Malaysia, starting in the Klang Valley. State governments that wish to offer free bus rides to local residents could issue bus cards to qualified applicants.
In this way, commuters could travel anywhere within the state and not be limited to routes operated by free buses, which are running empty half the time. Stage bus companies could easily increase frequency to cope with any rise in demand.
Each time the cards are read by the payment machines, the normal fare or agreed rate would automatically be charged to the issuer and credited to the stage bus company. Passengers would be more appreciative if they could view online the total fares they have clocked.
It is a fallacy to think that leasing and repainting buses to provide free service would show a state government is caring. It backfired when seen as a wasteful exercise and scorned by the majority who do not get to use it.
Such a situation could be avoided if the aim is to offer free bus rides to local Malaysian residents by issuing them bus cards. Leasing buses and getting them to run as contracted are more like “syiok sendiri” exercises when they do not serve the majority of the rakyat.
It is a waste of money every time one of these buses run empty or with too few passengers.
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