Laid-up buses and cars stripped for spare parts

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS & THE ASIAN HEARTLAND: INDONESIA

HOW do you keep a fleet of buses and cars on the road when the cost of spare parts has skyrocketed by over 300 per cent?

The answer: Find parts from other vehicles.

“Motor cannibalism” has kept the transport industry alive in the crisis – but only barely.

Some operators say that they will be out of business in three to six months if things do not turn around.

Nearly 20 per cent of transport firms operating taxis and mini-buses in Medan have closed down since early this year, the victims of rising expenses and rapidly falling income.

Consider the cost of running a mini-bus. The driver has to fork out 20,000 rupiah (S$4) daily for rental, 20,000 rupiah for petrol and 6,000 rupiah for parking space at the bus terminal. The total cost is 46,000 rupiah – an amount drivers are finding hard to earn.

Despite the corroding effects of inflation in the past year, commuters are typically still being charged 500 rupiah for a ride.

The reason is not altruism but fear of losing even more customers.

“The only way out for us is to increase fares,” said bus driver Indra Hanafi who works for the Koperasi Angkutan Medan. “But we all know that when fares go up, fewer people will use our buses.”

In the meantime, the prices of spare parts have kept on rising. Tyres, for example, now cost 125,000 rupiah each, more than double the price before the crisis.

Imported spare parts are even more expensive. Shock absorbers once cost 90,000 rupiah per unit. Now the price has skyrocketed to 400,000 rupiah.

A spare-parts distributor in Medan, who wanted to be known only as Ah Fang, said his store, Van Motors, had suffered a 40 per cent drop in business as prices for imported electrical gadgets shot up in the past six months.

He asked: “Many drivers cannot even meet the daily expenses. How do you expect them to buy new parts for their vehicles?”

Transport operators have developed a novel way around the problem in the form of “motor cannibalism”.

Mr Willy Wongkar, a supervisor at the PT Udentimex workshop in Medan, said that in a fleet of 10 taxis, for example, two are sidelined so that the operators can use the parts of these vehicles if any of the other eight are in need of them.

“It is better for them to reduce the numbers on the road,” he said. “They cannot bring in the money even if they are operational.”

He added that his workshop used to get 10 to 15 taxis turning up a day for repairs or servicing last year.

Now it only gets five cars at most. “They even bring their own spare parts now,” he said. “If the crisis is hurting them, it is also hurting us.”

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