By Terry Xu
In a follow up to a story written in September last year, The Online Citizen (TOC) waited outside two hotels after receiving information from sources to look out for more cases of Malaysia coaches fouling the local laws.
Inclusive of the earlier two cases which we have filmed and reported, there are a total of 8 cases of Malaysian buses picking up tourists outside of scheduled pick up points.
Under Singapore law, foreign coaches cannot pick up tourists from pick up points other than those on scheduled services. According to Land Transport Authority (LTA) regulations, tour buses “shall only be used to carry tourists from an ASEAN member country to visit Singapore or vice versa.” (See here)
Scheduled bus services means those operating from designated locations that are approved by LTA through application. (LTA application form)
But local coach drivers complain that Malaysian coaches have been driving in to Singapore with no passengers to pick up.
According to Mr Lim (not his real name), a Singaporean coach driver whom TOC spoke to, these occurrences have been happening the past few years. Local tour companies engage Malaysian coaches to ferry their customers on tour packages that covers Singapore and Kuala Lumpur because it is cheaper to do so.
The Singapore coaches which ferry tourists from Singapore to Malaysia have to pay for licenses in Malaysia, in addition to a costly insurance package for their entry into Malaysia. And because of these expenses, the increasing number of Malaysian buses illegally ferrying tourists into Malaysia is affecting their income and thus their livelihood.
Earlier in August last year, MP for Aljunied GRC, Mr Muhamad Faisal Bin Abdul Manap, asked the Minister for Transport, Mr Lui Tuck Yew whether such cases of errant Malaysian bus drivers have been increasing.
Mr Lui replied:
“There has been only one case of a Malaysia-registered bus caught entering Singapore to ferry tourists to Malaysia in 2013, and none in the prior two years.” (Hansard report)
However, working on tip-offs, TOC witnessed 6 such cases when we paid a visit to Victoria Street, Rangoon Road and Jalan Basar on 16th, 20th September and 12th, 14th, 15th, 18th October. We were not able to film the other two cases on 16th September and 18th October as it was at another location during the same timing.
The LTA was informed of the first incident, while the second was not as the coach driver was not sure of the exact timing of the pick up. The coach driver was surprised to see LTA sending its enforcement officer down as this was the first time LTA turned up.
The LTA officer stopped the coach and informed the driver that he had to drop his passengers at the hotel lobby and have another Singaporean bus ferry them to customs. However, the coach was eventually able to leave for Malaysia with its passengers.
LTA was also present during the incident on 18th October, stopping the coach before it departed. But after they have completed the checks, LTA said that the ferrying of the passengers is legal as the passengers had originated from Thailand.
Mr Lim said that if LTA was serious about clamping down on these illegal behavior, they would deploy LTA enforcement officers at the checkpoints to check the Malaysian coaches coming in and out of Singapore Customs. This would ensure that buses that come into Singapore without any passengers have good reasons for doing so.
Other coach drivers told TOC that they themselves have seen such acts very often but are unable to take videos or photos of these to present to LTA as evidence because of the restriction on photography at the customs checkpoints.
Mr Lim had been trying to get an answer from LTA about the ASEAN agreement on how it benefits coach drivers like him. After six months of gruelling back and forth, Mr Lim is still left with no answers.
Given the high number of incidents, TOC wrote to LTA for clarification on this matter. In response to TOC’s question of how many of such cases were caught by LTA:
“A Malaysia-registered tourist bus will need an ASEAN Public Service Vehicle (PSV) Permit to enter Singapore. The tourist bus is not allowed to pick up passengers from Singapore, unless these passengers commenced their journey in an ASEAN member country, other than Singapore.
Since 2013, we caught a Malaysia-registered tourist bus picking up passengers from Singapore. If convicted, the bus owner will be liable for a fine not exceeding S$2,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months under the Road Traffic Act and a revocation of the ASEAN PSV Permit.”
After we replied that we have caught more than one of such cases in Singapore on film, there has been no reply from the spokesperson from LTA, Bus & Vocational Licensing department for two weeks.
We also asked if even LTA has difficulty in identifying which Malaysian coaches is fouling the law, what about ordinary citizens who wish to do their due duty as law abiding citizens? It too has not answered this question.
Indeed, as revealed by the Singaporean coach whom we spoke to, LTA has always been informed of such cases, but they either do not act upon it or request the informant to supply the bus identification number to them before they take any action.
For now, some of the Singaporean coach drivers have choose to drop their Malaysian bus permit as it is no longer economical to hold pay for the permit and the insurance required to enter Malaysia due to dwindling orders to ferry passengers to Malaysia. Eventually as this trend continues to grow, tour companies can legitimately say that there are simply no local coach drivers who can ferry the tourists and ask to allow Malaysian coaches to be used. Incidentally, this trend is not limited to the coach driver profession.
Given that there are 8 documented cases within a short span of one month, is there an issue that LTA should be aware of and to do something about it, given that it concerns the livelihood of honest citizens working as coach drivers?
Is it not questionable that the Transport Minister and the LTA could say that there “has been only one case of a Malaysia-registered bus caught entering Singapore to ferry tourists to Malaysia in 2013, and none in the prior two years”?