Association sends out SOS to state govt to save ailing express boat industry

One of the express boats plying the Sibu-Kapit route berthed at the Sibu express boat terminal. - file pic

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by Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Nov 23: The Sibu Central Region Owner Express Boat Association is appealing to the government to grant a fare subsidy of RM20/RM25 per passenger for the Sibu-Song/Sibu-Kapit routes to ensure the sustainability of the express boat industry in the Central Region.

With the subsidy, the express boat operators may reduce the passenger fare to RM15 to reduce the financial burden of the riverine community who still need express boat services.

This is part of the proposal from the Sibu Central Region Owner Express Boat Association to the Sarawak Transport Ministry. Express boat operators are facing a dire situation where the express boat industry may become a thing of a past following the opening of the Sibu-Kapit Road which poses a direct survival threat to the express boat operators of the Central Region.

The proposal which was undersigned by its chairman Lau Hieng Choon and secretary Ting Chu Tiong also suggested that a lump sum subsidy of RM1,500 to be given to the operators for each return Sibu-Song-Kapit trip to offset the operational expenses.

In addition, the association also requested for a floating subsidy on diesel consumption to offset the diesel cost to RM1 per litre for express boats’ routine operation as well as a reduction of wharf rental rate for operating express boat.

Lastly, the association hoped action will be taken to stop ‘kereta sapu’ or ‘van sapu’ from picking up passengers at the wharf areas.

The members of the association found themselves landed in a “life and death” situation following the opening of the Sibu-Kapit Road. Their business has been so adversely impacted that closing down may be the only option if there is no government intervention.

“Operational sustainability is no more a firefighting topic but a factual challenge to the express boat operators in recent years. Continual business deficit has been pushing express boat operators towards the reluctant decision to end their express boat businesses.

“It is under this verge of closure that Sibu Central Region Owner Express Boat Association is writing this letter of general proposals to the Ministry of Transport Sarawak, on behalf of our members to seek for you invaluable support for our members to continue their express boat services along their respective routes,” the association’s proposal read.

Express boat service was the only mean of transport for many inland and riverine communities in the Central Region since the 1960s, before their settlements were reachable by roads.

The association claimed that the express boat industry has made significant contributions towards the connectivity and development of Sarawak’s inland areas since its operation and has accomplished its stage mission in Sarawak’s overall development.

“Despite the booming land transportation network, we deem ourselves remain (sic) relevant to the society, especially to those areas which are yet to be connected by spur roads and those communities that still depend on our shuttle services in their daily lives, or even as an alternative mode of transportation to the developing land transportation system, for the historical and tourism values that are given to it by the history, community and the mother river of Rajang,” the proposal read, highlighting the industry’s contribution to the state and local communities. — DayakDaily