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Major festivals are when express bus services are needed the most, but it’s not the lack of coaches that is the issue this Raya, but the shortage of drivers, The Star reports.

The bus companies claim they do not have enough money to convince the drivers to stick around, and are asking for at least a 10% fare hike during the mid-July break. Should this not materialise, they will not be able to convince their Muslim-majority driver workforce to stay.

“About 80% of our drivers are Muslim. They are asking why they should work during Raya if we can’t increase their salary,” said Johor Bus Operators Association president G. Suchdev, who added that a 20% fare increase would have allowed companies to raise salaries.

“That’s why we’re asking for the additional surcharge. The drivers have to sacrifice Hari Raya to keep the service running,” said Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association president Datuk Mohd Ashfar Ali, who wants fares raised from 9.3 sen to 11.4 sen per km.

It’s not just during Raya though, as the industry is gradually losing its drivers. While Mohd Ashfar couldn’t provide countrywide numbers on how many had left in recent years, Suchdev said some 400 bus drivers in Johor might have quit in the past two years. Destination, Singapore.

SMRT-Bus-SingaporeJohor is reportedly losing its bus drivers to Singapore, where the basic pay can be more than RM4,000

The money is better across the Causeway. With overtime and commission, express bus drivers here could earn a maximum of around RM3,000. Basic pay for Malaysian drivers in Singapore can be more than S$1,400 (RM4,000).

The bus operators are urging the government to deregulate express bus fares, like with school buses since January this year, if they are not willing to increase fares. A fare deregulation will open up a free market where operators come up with their own prices and compete with each other to attract passengers.

The ball is in the Land Public Transport Commission’s (SPAD) court now. “Fare deregulation would provide healthy competition to provide the best service to the public. But this still needs approval from the government as it involves public interest,” said SPAD chairman, Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar.

In March 2015, SPAD announced a price hike for both taxis and express bus services. The government gave the green light for taxis, but postponed a fare hike for express buses.