The recent collision between two buses on Yangon’s outskirts was one of the city’s worst traffic accidents and the bereaved include a brother and sister whose hopes of attending university have evaporated.
By HTUN KHAING | FRONTIER
MAUNG CHIT SAN KO, 15, would sometimes take the long bus trip to Yangon to sell flowers at his mother’s stall at Mayangone market, especially on days when she had to stay at their Hmawbi Township home to care for her ailing mother.
Chit San Ko’s mother, Daw Mi Cho, 40, had been the family’s only breadwinner since 2015, when her husband passed away.
The flower stall where Chit San Ko often worked during school holidays also supported his 16-year-old sister, Ma Kyi Phyo Wai, and they both hoped to be admitted to university after sitting their matriculation exams this year.
The hopes of Chit San Ko and Kyi Phyo Wai vanished on July 7 when Mi Cho became one of the 10 people killed in a horrendous collision between two public buses at Taukkyan in Mingaladon Township.
It was one of the worst accidents involving public buses in Yangon. More than 30 people were also injured, around 20 seriously.
Mi Cho had called from the market at about 10am on July 7 to tell her mother, Daw Tin Win, 61, that she was about to leave on the two-hour return trip to their home in Ye Zu Gyi village, Hmawbi Township.
Tin Win had been bed-ridden for two months and Mi Cho had arranged to make merit for her mother by providing a meal for monks the next day in a ceremony known as offering soon.
“All the preparations had been made for the ceremony; she even told me on the phone she would buy apples for the soon offering to the monks,” Tin Win told Frontier.
Mi Cho headed home on a bus on the No 37 line, which has air-conditioned vehicles and a reputation for safe and comfortable travel.
About an hour from Yangon, the bus was involved in a head-on collision with a bus from the No 55 line.
Witnesses said the No 55 bus was travelling at high speed and racing another bus from the same line.
The impact of the collision left dead, dying and injured people strewn across the road. The driver of the No 55 bus was among those killed.
Mi Cho often travelled to and from Yangon with her younger sister, Daw Yin Yin Aye, who lives in the same village and is also a flower vendor in Mayangone.
Yin Yin Aye was unable to travel back to Hmawbi with her sister on July 7, so she took the next bus. There were scenes of carnage where it reached the scene of the collision. “There were people with their limbs torn off,” said Yin Yin Aye, who saw a young woman from her ward lying on the road in a pool of blood and asked the driver to stop so she could go to her aid.
The young woman told her that Mi Cho was trapped under the bus.
“She had been sitting at the back of the bus; it took time to pull her out,” said Yin Yin Aye.
Mi Cho was already dead when she was taken from the bus. About K400,000 in cash and a mobile phone that Mi Cho had with her were never recovered.
The No 55 bus line was notorious for complaints about speeding and other reckless driving. On July 9, two days after the crash, the Yangon Region Transport Authority announced that the No 55 line was being abolished. However, the vehicles and drivers are simply being shifted to a newly created line, No 90.
The abolition of the No 55 line also initially created difficulties for commuters, regional MP U Kyaw Zeya (National League for Democracy, Dagon-2) said on July 10. “Now there are crowds of commuters at bus stops waiting for the [No 37] bus; there must be a plan to help them,” he said.
Kyaw Zeya said the YRTA, established by Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein in July 2016 as part of an ambitious plan to improve commuter bus services, should take responsibility and apologise to the public for the accident.
“It happened because of the recklessness of the driver of the No 55 bus, but it involved Yangon Bus Service buses, so the YRTA should make a formal apology,” he said.
The apology came on July 14 and was offered by Daw Nilar Kyaw, the Minister of Electricity, Industry, Road and Communication in the regional government, in a ceremony at which compensation in the form of “compassionate grants” was offered to relatives of the victims.
“Our government apologises to the families of the victims with responsibility and accountability; we know there is nothing more important than human life,” Nilar Kyaw said at the ceremony, held at the office of the regional government. She also promised that action would be taken against those responsible for the accident in accordance with the law.
The YRTA paid compensation of K2 million to those whose family members were killed in the accident.
But U Thaung Lwin, a 100-house administrator in Ye Zu Gyi village, said K2 million was not enough.
“Ten years ago a car accidentally ran into a family and only a child survived. But the car owner took responsibility for the child’s education and opened a bank account,” he said.
Mi Cho’s family, though, is afraid to complain publicly. They think it will make the officials angry, and they might seek to take back some or all of the compensation.
Many, particularly supporters of the NLD, have been quick to blame the accident on the bus driver. But Tin Win said too little attention has been paid to the fact that the No 55 line has long been a problem and the authorities failed to take action to bring it into line.
“They said that it was just an accident,” she said, “but the lives of families who lost a loved one have changed forever.”
TOP PHOTO: Daw Tin Win, the mother of Daw Mi Cho, who was one of 10 victims of a July 7 bus crash. Behind her sits Mi Cho’s daughter, Ma Kyi Phyo Wai, 16, and son Maung Chit Sann Ko, 15. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)