Human rights groups have questioned a new move by the authorities in Selangor to impose a 90-sen fare on foreigners who use the free bus service in Petaling Jaya, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) describing it as a "heartless" move which would burden foreign workers who are already earning less than Malaysians.
"Trying to build cost recovery solutions on the back of the poorest and least empowered of customers is really a heartless move by the PJ City Council, so it’s imperative that this measure be rescinded immediately.
"If the bus is free for Malaysians, the bus should be free for everyone," HRW's deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, told MalaysiaNow.
Under the new rule, foreigners using the PJ City Bus service will be charged 90 sen for each ride.
Selangor government leaders have defended the move, saying the free commuter service is meant for Malaysians, just as schools and public hospitals are to cater for citizens.
But Robertson said that those using the free service are not "well-heeled expatriates".
"They are not ones typically riding the PJ City Bus.
"Rather, it’s foreign migrant workers from South Asia, Myanmar, Cambodia and elsewhere who make a pittance compared to Malaysians who will get hit with this discriminatory fee, and they are precisely the ones who can least afford it," he added.
The move was also slammed by Kuala Lumpur-based Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), which labelled it as part of "a larger problem of discrimination" against migrant workers.
"Xenophobia must not be a part of any government policy, at either the state or federal level, especially by the Pakatan Harapan-led Selangor government, a coalition whose political platform promises reform," LFL director Zaid Malek said.
He also slammed the defence by Jay Jay Denis, the special officer to the Selangor menteri besar, that the fare was not for profit as it did not even cover the cost of the service.
"This begs the question of why such a discriminatory fare would need to be imposed in the first place on the poorest users such as migrant workers," he said.
"There is no good reason why they should not be able to benefit from the free bus service offered."
The Selangor government first mooted the fee rule in 2021, with the exco in charge of local government, Ng Sze Han, saying it was to cover costs incurred by the state and local authorities.
Zaid however said that the imposition of the fare on foreigners was "irrational and arbitrary".
"This act is tantamount to bigotry, plain and simple. This is also implicit in the remarks by the Selangor MB’s aide, in which he stressed that the priority for the PJ City Bus is Malaysians, as if the migrants are mooching off the Malaysian taxpayers – a narrative often used to justify discriminatory policies against migrants."
Describing migrant workers as "the backbone" of Malaysia, he said they were an essential part of many critical industries.
"A significant portion of the migrant community do jobs that Malaysian will not take up, for less pay and under harsh conditions, to the point that they often fall victim to labour exploitation.
"The fare discrimination is emblematic of a larger problem of discrimination suffered by this vulnerable group at the hands of the authorities."