2009 will remain a year to forget for Sani United Bhd, the owner of Sani Express. One of the company’s express buses was involved in a tragic crash near Ipoh that claimed 10 lives.
Although the company had to face the wrath of the authorities, the press, and the public, Sani Express came back, having turned over a new leaf.
Believe it or not, the company has improved so much that it has become the benchmark for other express bus operators in Malaysia today as far as safety is concerned. Having won the Occupational Safety and Health award (OSHA) at the NST-Shell Rimula Truck of the Year Awards 2013 in August, Sani Express also received the highest rating in the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS) safety star grading initiative earlier this year.
According to Muhammad Zamzam Musa, senior manager at Sani Express who is also the head of the company’s Safety,Health, and Environment (SHE) department, the main factor that contributed towards the company’s recent success is his department, which was formed in 2010.
“While most express bus operators only have a safety,health,and environment officer, Sani Express has an entire department dedicated to maintaining a high level of safety during day-to-day operations. The four-person team comprises Zamzam, two enforcement officers who are responsible for monitoring buses en route and ticketing stations nationwide, and another staff who is in charge of monitoring their buses via GPS.
What the enforcement officers (usually dressed in plain clothes) do is that they randomly pick a bus on a particular day, and follow the bus from the terminal to its destination, observing the driver’s behaviour and the speed, making sure that the journey is kept safe by the driver. When the enforcement officers are at the destination, they will also monitor the personnel at the ticketing counter, observing their interaction with customers and making sure that they are friendly and helpful at all time.
According to Zamzam, these officers are “on the road” for four days every week. The remaining three days are spent writing and submitting the reports based on their undercover observation for the week.
Based at the company’s terminal cum headquarters in Klang Sentral, Sani Express is the first express bus operator in Malaysia to have its own terminal, unlike the rest who have their head office and ticketing counters at bus terminals.
“The main benefit of having our own terminal is that we have less issues with ticket touts. Besides that, it is also easier for us to manage our passengers. It is more convenient for passengers as well, as they don’t have to look for our bus among hundreds of other companies’ buses. All they have to do is be here on time,” said Zamzam.
Sani Express’ fleet currently comprises 31 Scania double-decker buses, travelling to Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah (Alor Star), and Perlis. Running since 2006, all the buses are fitted with special speed limiters that don’t allow the buses to go past 95km/h.
The total number of drivers working for the company that was founded in Kelantan in 2006 currently stands at 100. Two drivers are assigned for every journey, with another driver on standby in case of an emergency. Speaking of the drivers, Zamzam said that the company conducts random drug tests every now and then to ensure that they are always substance-free.
“Our drivers only work four days per week. On average, each driver doesn’t drive for more than four hours for each trip. On the longest route, from Klang Sentral to Kuala Perlis which takes eight hours, the drivers switch half way through. At every destination, we have hostels for our drivers to rest and spend the night before their return trip the day after,” said Zamzam.
With an average turnover of two drivers per year (mostly due to retirement), Zamzam said Sani Express does not give any incentive based on the amount of trips, but rather based on good behaviour.
“We reward safe drivers based on their summons record and customer feedback on a monthly, quarterly, and also yearly basis. If at all a passenger feels like lodging a complaint or complimenting a driver, he or she can always call our terminal and let us know,” said Zamzam.
When asked about the challenges faced by Sani Express, Zamzam said many customers have complained that the company’s fares are more expensive than others.
“They need to understand that the money that they are paying us is actually invested by us in order to provide them with better service. We use the best buses around and also have many class-leading facilities and services such as our own terminal, a dedicated SHE team, two drivers per bus, and also customer incentive programmes such as the Sani Express Loyalty Card where regular customers can earn points and exchange them for exciting gifts.”
With so much effort being invested to provide passengers with the safest and most comfortable journey, Sani Express’ services are expected to expand further next year, as the company is planning to increase its routes in the northern region and in the east coast.