Extra costs incurred by public transport operators during the Covid-19 pandemic will eventually have to be borne by operators and taxpayers, says Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
Khaw said this in a written Parliamentary reply to Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira, who asked about the pandemic's financial impact on the public transport operators and financing.
Operators incurring additional costs
In his response, Khaw said that since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, ridership on public buses and trains have fallen significantly — 75 per cent and 84 per cent respectively.
As a result, fare revenues have also dropped by about 80 per cent.
However, public transport operators are incurring additional costs.
This is because the fall in public transport demand was not matched by a drop in the supply of bus and train services.
This, said Khaw, has been to ensure that commuters can maintain safe distancing on the public transport network.
Further, public transport operators have incurred additional costs to step up the cleaning regime of buses, trains, and public transport premises, purchase masks and face shields for their staff, and pay for the accommodation of their Malaysian bus captains.
"These costs would eventually have to be borne by operators and taxpayers, as they are not adequately covered by current fares. Our transport operators are therefore under significant financial stress, especially as their rail operations were already making losses prior to Covid-19."
Too early to determine pandemic's impact on public transport
For now, Khaw says, the financial strain on operators is partly cushioned by government relief measures such as the Job Support Scheme, property tax rebates, waiver of the foreign worker levy, and temporary suspension of the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP).
The minister added that he is grateful to transport operators for supporting essential services despite the financial strain.
He added that it is still too early to determine the pandemic's long-term impact on public transport.
"If the impact is drastic, we may have to update the current financing model for public transport appropriately," he concluded.
Top image by Joshua Lee.