Stand-off over Kuching Sentral

KUCHING, Malaysia - Kuching now has its own Kuching Sentral, a modern bus terminal with a rather contemporary design modelled, no doubt, on the Kuala Lumpur Sentral.

It is situated near Kuching International Airport, which means bus passengers from as far as Brunei or West Kalimantan in Indonesia have double the distance to cover to get into town compared with where the existing terminal is.

Kuching Sentral has a big supermarket, a food court and a seemingly endless supply of shop space. What it lacks now are the buses.

A rather unseemly battle has broken out into the open, with the bus operators adamant they will not move into Kuching Sentral.

Their main complaint appears to be the fact that the owner of Kuching Sentral, state unit trust Assar, will charge 10 per cent of bus fares of the operators for the privilege of using the new facility.

The bus companies are up in arms over what they regard as unreasonable charges, complaining that they are already struggling to compete for passengers with the fares of low-cost airlines.

There are other side issues which the companies brought up, such as that the design of the new bus terminal is not user-friendly.

Following an earlier threat to stay put in the existing bus terminal, a meeting called by state Minister of Local Government Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh between the bus operators and Assar officials appeared to have caused the bus operators to budge.

They have already missed an earlier deadline for the beginning of this month to move their operations to Kuching Sentral.

Assar has appeared to back-track from its earlier hardline stance, suggesting that it can talk things over with the bus operators.

It seems a bit odd to the casual observer that a facility meant to benefit bus companies was built with no apparent prior consultations with these companies.

While there is certainly a case to be made for the facility to be provided using private sources of funding, this appears to be a case of where it could go badly wrong if government regulators, in this case the Kuching South City Council, washed their hands off the matter.

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