Bus-ride nightmares

Outside the bus, the midday sun reflected strongly off the tinted windows. Inside was shaded, but also hot with the faintsmell of sweat hanging in the air. The bus was crowded as usual, constraining, U Nyi Nyi’s arms and legs. Struggling for air, he felt dizzy and collapsed.

“I got back on my feet thanks to the passengers on the bus. When I got off, I could breathe some fresh air and felt relieved,” he said.

Like many, U Nyi Nyi works in Yankin, and has to take the bus for work. Living in Hlaingtharyar Township in the north of the city, he takes the No. 83 Omni Focus Bus. It usually takes him from between an hour to an hour-and-a-half, depending on traffic. Buses are also less packed in the morning, but are always overcrowded on the way back, during rush hour.

“Every day I have to wait more than 20 minutes at the bus stop. On rainy days, it takes longer,” he said.

The wait for the bus is nerve-wracking as most benches at the bus stop are already occupied. During rush hour the commuters nervously stand at the stop and push and press against each other when the bus arrives.

On good days, U Nyi Nyi manages to get on the first bus. However, he never dreams of finding a seat and stays standing the whole journey.

We need better buses

For many years, U Nyi Nyi has been annoyed with the lack of better public transport in the city. The No. 83 bus passes a construction site, so it also fills very quickly with construction workers. This makes it especially crowded at night, as the workers make their way home en masse.

“If we have more buses on the route, the passengers will feel more comfortableand won’t need to wait as long,” U Nyi Nyi said.

The Yangon Bus Service (YBS) started operating in January 2017 following restructuring of the public bus system, replacing old and ramshackle buses with new air-conditioned ones. All buses are now equipped with cash boxes to minimise interaction and potential conflict with the drivers.

The old buses were run by a company called Ma Hta Tha, which passengers jokingly said the initials stood for “Ma Htayat Thint” (you must always stand). Memes ran wild on Facebook when the old buses were finally taken off the roads, and people welcomed a new era of public transport.

YBS was the opening move of the new Yangon Region government led by Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein in January 2017. Under the new bus system, the number of buses and bus stands has increased dramatically from 1288 in 2016 to 3620 in 2017.

But the passengers still face long delays on the road and lengthy bus waits due to the slow progress of road upgrades in the city.

Though there have been fewer disagreements with conductors, the fare system has allowed for some dishonest commuters to pay less than the fixed fare.

Harassment also rides the bus

Over the past 30 years, harassment on buses had been a big issue. Many Myanmar women are shy and do not speak out.

A campaign to fight sexual harassment on Yangon’s bus lines was initiated in the early 2010s, and was called the “Whistle Campaign”. It’s still very much an issue on the buses, especially when they are crowded.

Legal translator Hnin Oo Wai, 26, commutes daily from North Okalapa to Sule.

Every day she experiences congestion on the buses and the unwanted proximity of the other commuters.

“Every bus that travels from North Okalapa to Sule and back is crowded at rush hour. I never had a seat. When I get to the office, I feel exhausted,” Hnin Oo Wai said.

“The buses are better than before, with air-conditioning. But the traffic is still bad and buses are very crowded. When the bus is crowded, men and women are squashed against one another – which is uncomfortable,” she said.

Regardless of their sex, or even age and status for that matter, when buses are overcrowded passengers get irritated. Small bumps on the road, or a pump of the brakes can send dozens of passengers careering against each other.

Whilst the mechanics of the buses have undoubtable improved over the past ten years, the growing problem of overcrowding persists – and seems to be getting worse, making the daily commute more of a chore than a convenience for many.

Source: Myanmar Times

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