I REFER to the report “SPAD: ‘Chasing’ commissions can result in accidents” (The Star, Dec 27) about express bus drivers chasing after trips as they are paid by commission on each trip they make. Their base salaries are low so they have to depend on commissions to earn a good income.
SPAD chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar commented that this was not a good way of paying the drivers because it encourages dangerous driving, contributing to fatal accidents on the highways as happened a few days ago.
It’s a tragedy which happens when the driver is exhausted and falls asleep at the steering wheel, all because of lack of rest due to chasing after trips to get more income.
The report brings into focus the fallacy of government trying to control prices and tariffs in the economy. The more government interferes with the market mechanism to please consumer groups and to gain popular support, the more difficult it becomes for companies to be certain of making profits in their business and to forecast their future earnings. Why would express bus companies want to commit themselves to fixed salary structures for their drivers when they are not sure whether the government would allow a fare increase? Faced with the uncertainties of government regulatory controls, the companies take the safest way out by cutting corners on their operating expenditures, often at the expense of safety requirements.
The SPAD chairman said the agency has recommended a flexible fare structure, which hopefully will be approved, to create an incentive for express bus companies to improve working conditions for their drivers, employ local drivers instead of foreigners, and pay them higher monthly salaries. How the flexible fare structure will work is not clear but, presumably, it would allow freedom for bus companies to adjust their fares according to changing circumstances.
Bus travel is the most affordable mode of transport for the lower income groups, especially for long journeys. Those who own cars but are looking for ways to save money would switch to bus travel if they find the toll rates on the highways too expensive relative to their income.
The Government can encourage the switch to the bus by allowing toll concessionaires to increase their rates. For example, PLUS could increase its toll rate as stipulated in the revised concession agreement with the Government five years ago and scheduled to increase on Jan 1, 2016 but is yet to be implemented. Higher toll rates leading to fewer car owners driving on the highways would be good for road safety and the environment.
For bus companies, the higher toll rate would be a blessing in disguise in that it would give them the leeway to increase their fares without worrying about losing passengers, thus strengthening their revenues and giving more certainty to their profits. There is no need to give them subsidies which will do more harm than good. It’s best to provide the enabling environment for the companies to be profitable.
When the bus companies are operating under a flexible fare structure which they can set for themselves to make their industry competitive with other modes of travel like the railway, private cars and taxis, they will find it easier to comply with high standards of safety and pay humane salaries to their drivers. With a competitive fare structure, there is no excuse for negligence on safety.
The Government will have all the justification to enforce its safety regulations with the full force of the law in order to reduce the horrifying accidents that never seem to end and which the public is getting sick of hearing.
We need a combination of the carrot and the stick to achieve first world standards of road safety.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM