Chronic traffic leading to higher socio-economic costs in Yangon

Ma Win Win starts getting ready for work at 6am sharp each day. By 6.30am she’s already at the bus stop waiting to board the two-hour long ride to her office downtown. It’s a long ride but she has no choice, as traffic in the morning is almost always at a standstill. With fewer cars on the road though, it would take her half the time or less to get to work, she said.

Ma Win Win is not the only one having to spend hours on the road just to get to work. Yangon, with a population of some seven million, suffers from debilitating traffic where during rush-hour, commuters can spend at least three hours on the road daily.

Urban-management experts and members of parliament representing the city said the government need to find solutions for this problem, as the costs to the economy and society “is huge”, especially since Yangon’s population has been forecast to grow to 10 million by 2030.

Assuming the two million people who use public transportation daily were to earn the minimum wage of K600 per hour spent two hours a day stuck in traffic, then the total loss in productivity would amount to K1.2 billion, which is roughly 1.7 percent of the country’s 2017 GDP.

It is not just about the value lost in man-hours, employers said the stress factor adds to the toll while labour productivity will also be affected. There is also the pollution factor and its impact on health, which has not been studied.

Pyithu Hluttaw MP U Aung Kyaw Kyaw Oo, who represents Hlaing township in western Yangon, said transportation costs increase because people have to spend extra money for petrol or in taxis instead of buses to get to work on time.

However, no specific surveys have been carried out on the city’s chronic traffic congestion, while urban management specialist Ko Aung Khant said the focus in tackling the problem should be to reduce time wastage and costs. “There needs to be a more focused policy to tackle the problem but it doesn’t look like it,” he said.

Shwe Lin Ban industrial zone secretary U Nay Lin Zin said the traffic in Yangon, where most foreign investors tend to be based, “is an additional challenge to doing business in Myanmar”. The industrial zone, located inHlaing Tharyar township, lies to Yangon’s west.

U Nay Lin Zin suggested restricting the entry of private vehicles into the city and ensuring that the laws were strictly enforced for traffic violations.

U Aung Kyaw Kyaw Oo blames poor traffic management and bad parking habits of Yangonites for the traffic. While city authorities have taken action for traffic violations, the problem seems bigger than just simple law-enforcement given that 600,000 of the one million private vehicles registered in the country are registered in Yangon, where there are insufficient roads, a lack of parking facilities, too few law-enforcement officers and an inadequate public transportation system .

There are only 4,000 buses for the 7 million residents now living in Yangon, according to data.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar Traffic Police Force say they have assigned traffic police in districts with schools to control congestion, while others are assigned at the main traffic lights of Yangon to help keep vehicles moving. Still, there are only about 1000 traffic police in Yangon, which is inaequate to keep traffic flowing smoothly in the city.

To reduce road congestion, the government is currently cooperating with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to improve and extend the reach of the Yangon Bus System

The government expects that the project will increase the numbers of bus users by at least 50pc.

Although people are enjoying a better traffic conditions at present, the issues of traffic congestion have not been resolved yet.

“The Yangon government should have a specific policy for improving congestion. They need to know where they are going, but at present it is as if they are doing it without direction and coordination,” said Ko Aung Khant.

As more than 80pc of the Yangon population are potential bus users, the government can improve congestion on the roads by adopting an effective policy to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and develop incentives for better public transportation, he said.

Yangon’s mayor, U Maung MaungSoe, suggested encouraging businesses to set up outside the downtown area, where the worst congestion happens.

Given that 40pc of Myanmar’s economic output comes from Yangon alone, not focusing on reducing the problems from traffic would come with a heavy price.

Source: Myanmar Times

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