Thursday, January 19, 2012

The old buses fiasco victimizes the 'rakyat'

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.


The Declining Day (Al-'Asr)
1. By the declining day,
2. Lo! Man is in a state of loss,
3. Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort
one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.

ONE hot afternoon when I was driving along Lebuh AMJ (Alor Gajah-Melaka Tengah-Jasin) from my house in Semabok to fetch my mother who was waiting at the Melaka Hospital in Bukit Palah, I was caught in a massive traffic jam.

After inching my way, I saw thick black smoke rising to the sky from the road about 500 meters from my position.

I guessed there must have been an accident and some vehicles were on fire. Sirens of ambulances and fire brigades were heard.

As I was in the rush, I steered my car out of the traffic jam to a nearby alternative road to Ujung Pasir and Air Leleh and then back to Lebuh AMJ to the hospital. Seconds after entering the alternative road, I heard a loud explosion; the fire must be at its height, I thought.

Later that afternoon I visited the scene; there I saw the frame of a burnt bus. I was told that there was no road accident; only a stage bus owned by Town Bus Services Sdn Bhd on its way from Ujung Pasir to Melaka Sentral via Lebuh AMJ had caught fire and burst into flames.

Luckily all 10 passengers and the driver of bus managed to get out of the bus in time. An eye witness said that a passerby saw the back of the bus was on fire so he alerted the driver and passengers. The driver stopped the bus on the roadside and all passengers scrambled out for their dear lives.

That ill fated bus was one of about 120 stage buses in Melaka that were old and dirty. The buses were in that condition because their operators and owners were in deep financial difficulties. Come 1st February, some 10 stage bus operators in the state had threatened to halt their services in protest over the state government's failure to solve the concessionaires' woes. Their action would strand some 30,000 commuters in the state.

Realizing the difficulties that had to be faced by the Melaka 'ordinary rakyat' including my own relatives and friends, I talked over the phone to Melaka Omnibus Operators Association president, Razaki Endun who said the concessionaires decided to halt their buses after no financial lifeline was rendered as pledged by the state government.

Razali was is also Deputy President of Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association (PMBOA), said the impending strike was aimed at forcing the state government to pay compensation to the ailing bus operators as promised a few times before. He said the bus operators had waited for the monetary assistance until the end of last year but sadly there was no response from the Melaka government headed by Chief Minister, Mohd Ali Rustam.

In another twist of the issue, Ali Rustam was quoted by newsmen as saying the state government would pay compensation amounted to RM7.2 million to the 10 bus concessionaires and their workers when they ceased operations on 1st February. He said as a premier measure, he would direct state government agencies to provide the assistance while waiting allocations from the federal government.

"Payment of the compensation would dig out some RM14 million from the state government, but we have no choice," Ali Rustam was also quoted saying.

The state government would take over the operations of stage buses in the state as soon as possible.

Nowadays, the Melaka State government investment arm, Panorama Cultural & Tourism Sdn Bhd (PMCT) runs a fleet of Panorama buses servicing Melaka city and the surrounding areas. It was reported recently that the state government had spent some RM2.35 million in purchasing 10 new 40-seater coaches from Scomi Engineering & Logistics Sdn Bhd for its Panorama bus service in a move to upgrade Melaka's public transportation system.

Meanwhile, regarding the spat between the state government and Melaka bus operators, the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman, Syed Hamid Albar has urged Melaka Omnibus Operators Association to meet the state government to resolve its financial woes. He said the problem could be settled if the group discussed the matter so that an agreement could be reached although he agreed there was a need to review the public transport system in the state.

In my conversation with Razali, he stressed that meeting with the state authorities would be meaningless as they had met before, the fact was that the state government had no allocations to assist in the financial woes of the bus operators.

They themselves tried to fork out money from its municipal councils such as the Melaka Historical City Council (MBMB), the Hang Tuah Jaya Municipal Council (MPHTJ) and Alor Gajah Municipal Council (MPAG). The authorities hoped to raise RM5.4 million from these state government agencies to assist the bus operators.

"It was only an idea, nothing has been put on the ground," said Razali who also lambasted the state government for failing to secure a RM36 million loan from the federal government to pay for the bus operators as it had promised more than two years ago in upgrading public transportation in the state.

After several consultations, the Melaka Omnibus Operators Association decided that 31st December 2011 was the last date for the state government to honour its promise in giving assistance to local bus companies, stressing that the money was urgent as operations by local bus companies in Melaka are in dire situation as they are facing acute financial problems.

He said while waiting for the state's assistance, operators were facing more trouble as the authorities such as the Road Transport Department (RTD) had compounded several of the old buses because they are not roadworthy. Perhaps, the incident involving a Town Bus Services Sdn Bhd which burst into flames at Lebuh AMJ was a clear indication how un-roadworthy are some of the stage buses in Melaka.

When asked to comment on the government allocation of some RM400 million to help the bus operators as a short term measures to help keep buses services, particularly on unprofitable routes in rural areas afloat, Razali claimed for the first phase it was only for bus operators in Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor.

He said urgent assistance should be given to bus operators throughout the country including in Sabah and Sarawak where bus services were not profitable.

Meanwhile various groups want the Melaka government to be serious in providing good and economical transportation system for the ‘rakyat’ since it could spent lavishly on uneconomically project such as the monorail system for tourists at a cost of RM15 million and upgrading the Batu Berendam International Airport which since had become a ‘white elephant’ at a cost of RM131 million.

Recently the state government bought an old submarine at a cost of RM7 million; turning it into a museum in Kelebang; in 2007 it had bought two old double-decker London buses with each costing RM200,000 but both buses are now in the museum!

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