School bus fares set to rise again in 2024; increase needed to cover rising costs: MOE, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

School bus fares set to rise again in 2024; increase needed to cover rising costs: MOE

The cost of school bus services is expected to rise in 2024, after the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Thursday that it is allowing operators to increase the pricing cap of school bus fares under existing contracts by up to 13 per cent.

This adjustment will help the sustainability of school bus services amid rising operating costs, the ministry said.

School bus operators The Straits Times spoke to said they are likely to raise fares to the full 13 per cent.

MOE noted that the pricing cap was last adjusted in January 2023 by up to 7 per cent on existing contracts, but the latest hike was necessary due to rising cost pressures on the operators.

“This will significantly minimise the risk of disruptions and inconvenience to families should these incumbent operators be unable to sustain their operations,” it said.

Operators will inform parents and guardians of any revisions to the bus fares from September.

Primary school pupils under MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme will continue to receive school bus subsidies that cover 65 per cent of their monthly school bus fares. The subsidy level was raised from 60 per cent in January.

The school bus sector here has been plagued by a shortage of drivers. This has led to firms, such as ComfortDelGro Bus, ending their contracts with schools early, The Straits Times reported in May.

MOE announced in June measures to tackle this shortage, including granting selected school bus operators to hire more foreign workers.

While most operators welcomed the new move, they said that the fare hike would not fully mitigate the rising operating costs.

Mr Darry Lim, a spokesman for the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) which has around 600 members, said that operating costs for insurance, fuel, tires and manpower have increased 30 to 50 per cent from 2022.

Bedok Transport owner Lionel Lim said: “This increase is just a drop in the ocean of rising fuel and labour costs. It only helps us to keep up with the costs to stay above water. It doesn’t help to increase salaries so that we can attract more people to the industry.”

Operators are also worried that the fare hikes would discourage parents from engaging school bus services for their children.

“If school bus fares become too expensive, parents might buy monthly student concession passes for their children. Despite the longer commuting time on public transport, this would be a more affordable option than taking the school bus,” added Mr Darry Lim, who is also the director of bus service provider Hui Leong Bus.

But others including Mr Phillip Peh, president of Singapore School & Private Hire Bus Owners’ Association (SSPHBOA), are hopeful that parents will be understanding of the fare hike.

Mr Peh, who is also the general manager of Tong Tar Transport Service, said: “Some parents may not engage school bus services after this price hike but there may be parents who can afford it or are likely to accept the reasons for the rising fares.”