School bus fees to go up

GEORGE TOWN: With the new school term beginning next week, parents can expect to pay an average of 10% more for school bus fees depending on the route and type of vehicle, say operators.

Demand for school buses has surged by 20% in some areas with the end of work-from-home arrangements as well as fewer drivers and operators due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they said.

The cost of vehicle maintenance has gone up too because 90% of spare parts, including engine oil and tires, are imported, said Federation of Malaysian School Bus Operators Association president Amali Munif Rahmat.

At the same time, operators and owners have to pay above the minimum wage so as to attract capable drivers, said Amali.

“Most of our spare parts are imported, including the engine oil, so the cost of maintenance has increased due to the drop in our currency value,” he added.

Getting ready: 13-year-old Luah Zhi Herng preparing materials for school as his father Luah Chong Tat, 43, and mother Heng Ooi Bee Lee, 43, look on. — LIM BENG TATT/The StarGetting ready: 13-year-old Luah Zhi Herng preparing materials for school as his father Luah Chong Tat, 43, and mother Heng Ooi Bee Lee, 43, look on. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

Amali declined to provide an estimate on the amount of increase but said the average fees for a school van or bus would be between RM50 and RM200 depending on the vehicle and route.

For operators, the rise in costs has been compounded by a surge in demand for their services and a lack of drivers.

“There are about 50% fewer buses and vans now as drivers left and found more secure jobs in other industries during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is why there is a shortage of buses in some areas while demand has surged,” he said.

Amali added that before the pandemic, there were more than 16,000 active members in the federation, but that figure had since dropped to about 8,000.

Lim Boon Kooi, who owns a fleet of over 50 school buses, said 30% of his drivers had retired since the pandemic first struck.

“Some parents started booking their slots very early as they were aware of the shortage of buses. Unfortunately, it is not easy to look for new drivers,” he said.

The shortage of drivers has coincided with higher demand as more parents are also returning to work in their offices.

“As parents return to working in their offices, they are no longer able to fetch their children at flexible hours,” he added.

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