In Singapore, air fares spike as coach operators boost trips on week of GE14

Signs printed on colourful A4 paper and emblazoned with the words ‘Malaysian Election Special’ are pasted conspicuously on the walls of coach operator Star Qistna Express. — TODAY pic
Signs printed on colourful A4 paper and emblazoned with the words ‘Malaysian Election Special’ are pasted conspicuously on the walls of coach operator Star Qistna Express. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, April 11 — On a typical weekday, coach operator Eltabina Express runs two trips from Singapore to Ipoh. But on May 8, the eve of Malaysia’s upcoming general election, the coach operator at Jalan Sultan will run 16 trips to the north-western Malaysian city to cater to higher demand from Malaysians returning home to vote.

“About 80 per cent of those trips have already been booked,” the company’s operations manager, who only wanted to be identified as Nora, told TODAY today.

Malaysia’s 14th general elections will fall on a Wednesday, the Election Commission announced this week, setting off a scramble for bus and plane tickets among overseas Malaysians who want to return home to vote. Malaysians staying in Singapore, Brunei, Southern Thailand and Kalimantan in Indonesia are not eligible to vote by post and are required to return to the country on May 9 to cast their vote.

Several popular bus operators in Singapore said they are mulling plans to increase the frequency of their weekday trips to major cities like Kuala Lumpur closer to and during the week of the May 9 vote.

“Closer to the election date, we may be making 10 to 15 more coach trips to Kuala Lumpur, as well as Perak and Alor Setar,” said Nurul Huda, a staff at Star Qistna Express at Golden Mile Complex.

Nancy Lim, a manager at Global Holidays, said her company had already added one extra trip to Kuala Lumpur on May 8 — on top of the six that it usually runs daily — from its outlet at The Star Vista. It has another outlet in Novena. Bookings for coach trips to the Malaysian capital skyrocketed after the announcement of the polling date yesterday, she added.

Lim, 42, said the company would not be increasing prices, even though tickets for four of the trips to Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the election have already sold out. “We will not be increasing the prices of our tickets. Even for Chinese New Year, we did not do that,” she added.

Other coach operators, however, would not rule out a price hike. “If all of our trips up to Malaysia have been fully booked, and there continues to be demand for the tickets, we may have to increase our prices as we have to hire extra buses,” said Huda of Star Qistna Express.

A single-trip ticket to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore usually costs about S$30 (RM88) to S$40. It is not uncommon for ticket prices to go up by two-fold during popular dates, such as Hari Raya and Chinese New Year.

Meanwhile, flights are still available for Malaysians who are willing to pay more to fly home to vote. Air fares to major Malaysian cities, however, have shot up two to four times since the date of the election was announced.

For example, online prices for flights from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur have gone up more than three times, particularly for popular dates like May 8.

A check on Jetstar Asia’s website showed a flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur costing S$159 on May 8, compared to S$40 on May 1. A return flight on the same leg of the journey costs S$137 on May 10 compared to S$18 the week before, on May 3.

Fares shown on Scoot’s website for the same period were even higher — S$199 for a flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on May 8, compared to S$56 on May 1. A return flight on the same leg of the journey costs S$251 on May 10 compared to S$24 on May 3.

“Airfares are generally a function of demand and supply,” said a Scoot spokesman. — TODAY

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