It is CVLB that needs to be reformed

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) views with deep concern the statement by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, that the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) is re-examining the role of RapidKL after private bus companies complained they were losing passengers because their fares were higher.

Even more alarming is his comment that “If necessary, the role of RapidKL would be taken over by other operators. Government agencies should not compete with private operators”.

We urge the government to look at the whole issue of public transport from the viewpoint of the needs and interests of the general public whom it is designed to serve. Their interests are paramount and the government should not be swayed from its mission of serving them by the narrow interests of some private bus operators.

In a word, the main object of public transport should be to serve the rakyat, not merely to provide opportunities to private operators to make profits.

We wish however to make it clear that we are not opposed to the participation of the private sector in public transport. However, they should play a complementary role in such an endeavour and in accordance with strict regulations imposed on them by any licensing authorities.

In fact, it is the failure of the private operators to adhere to those conditions that has brought about the recent public transport crisis in this country.

Our experience in Penang bears this out. Private bus operators have for years been flouting the conditions of their permit to operate with impunity. Many of these private bus companies have never observed the conditions as regards time, route or regularity.

It is for this reason that the people of Penang welcomed the establishment of Rapid Penang. It has been a real boon to commuters in the island who for years have suffered under a scandalous public transport system. However, the proper functioning and operation of Rapid buses in Penang is being hampered by the private bus companies which not only continue to flout regulations but also engage in unfair competition with Rapid Penang.

If Datuk Seri Nazri’s statement that “government agencies should not compete with private operators” is taken as an expression of the present government’s policy, it would mean that not only RapidKL, but even Rapid Penang, will soon be privatized. This is totally unacceptable as such a move would clearly be undertaken not in the interests of the public but to satisfy private interests.

In this respect, we find it particularly galling that the CVLB is being asked to re-examine the whole issue of the role of Rapid and the public sector in public transport. The point is that the whole public transport crisis in this country (and in particular in Penang) would not have arisen but for the total failure and incompetence of the CVLB to discharge its duties in regulating public transport. This is a body that has been concerned with the interests of private bus operators rather than the general public. In Penang, private bus operators have been openly flouting the conditions of the permit but the CVLB has refused to take action to enforce the law.

If there is any public body in this country which is in need of reform, it is surely the CVLB.

Instead of undertaking a complete revamp of this discredited public body, the government appears to be vesting the CVLB with the power to determine the future role of the public sector in public transport.

Such a move is completely misconceived and CAP wishes to register its strongest objection to it. We urge the government to put the public interest first. If private bus operators have grouses, these can be looked into and reasonable solutions can be found for them. For example, instead of competing with Rapid buses, an integrated bus time schedule could be negotiated and agreed upon so that the bus service of Rapid and the private companies complement one another. Whatever the solution, the interests of the public must not be sacrificed to satisfy private economic interests.

Press Statement – 22 March, 2009