No easy break for Yangon’s bus system

A litany of woes besets Yangon’s buses, say owners and observers, and the situation is likely to get worse. Falling income, rising costs, staff shortages, police crackdowns, restrictions on fuel access, an ageing fleet and all-day congestion are conspiring to make bus travel in Myanmar’s largest city even worse.

Bus owners who want to sell and get out are finding nobody wants to buy.

“Traffic jams are at the heart of the problem,” said Ko Ta Yoke Lay, who owns the No 45 route. “To my knowledge, most owners would like to sell their bus lines because they can’t hire enough staff to run them. I get calls every day from people wanting to sell. But income is very low, and there are no buyers.”

Rampant congestion means buses that used to complete four runs a day now run far behind their time-tables, which cuts income, both for the owners and for the drivers and conductors, whose pay depends on the number of passengers.

The constant jams also make it harder and more time-consuming to fill the tank.

“We get no support from the government. They say they will provide CNG, but it’s just talk. You have to pay K4 million for a CNG permit and it takes four months to get it. Many owners don’t want to wait,” said Ko Ta Yoke Lay.

The procedures are more complex still if the owners exchange an old bus for a new one.

“The owner has to carry out all the procedures from scratch. Hilux owners are the worst off because they have to replace the Hilux with a minibus, which they usually buy on hire purchase. They can’t afford to be off the road, or to wait for the CNG permit.”

But switching to diesel is expensive – K80,000 a day instead of K30,000 for CNG. And fares cannot be raised because they are set by the government.

“So the owners put bus staff on a piecework system, asking them to work for less until they come up with the rest of the money,” said Ko Ta Yoke Lay.

Undeterred by the official fare, conductors demand more money from passengers, something that they would not have to do if they were paid a steady wage.

“The piecework system encourages bus workers to demand more from the passengers. The system has to be reformed in the long term,” said No 39 bus owner U Tin Maung Htut.

No 31 owner U Myo Win said owners feel squeezed and penny-pinched from every side.

“The government exports so much gas to foreign countries, but they don’t make it available to us. Queuing up at a CNG station is a waste of time, and costs money,” he said.

Bus drivers are notorious for driving on the wrong side of the road, often leading a convoy of opportunistic lawbreakers in smaller vehicles, to try to make up for lost time. But the government has now increased the fine for such behaviour which, in any case, according to traffic experts, makes the congestion worse.

“Though bus staff are working longer hours than before, they earn less money. On top of that, they have to pay fines when police catch them breaking traffic laws. Most bus drivers have now quit, and there is a labour shortage,” said U Hla Aung, chair the of Yangon Region Supervisory Committee for Motor Vehicles, which is better known by its Myanmar acronym Ma Hta Tha.

Many former bus drivers are now driving taxis, or highway express buses. According to Ma Hta Tha records, there are more than 6000 buses in Yangon, but only 4500 of them are running every day. Others have broken down, or lack drivers.

“Most buses are quite old. To get around the departure of drivers, the owners hire replacements almost at random. Three out of 10 drivers are not properly licensed, which can lead to accidents,” said Ko Ta Yoke Lay.

Source: Myanmar Times

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