By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER
YANGON — Planned reforms of the bus system in Myanmar’s commercial capital will be delayed due to funding issues, a senior Yangon Urban Transportation Authority official says.
The changes will see most existing bus lines amalgamated into larger companies and old vehicles replaced by newer models. Buses will be manned only by drivers, with no conductor (known in Myanmar as a “spare”) to collect fares.
Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein said in August 2016 that the government planned to introduce the new system by January 2017, but YUTA secretary Dr Maung Aung told Frontier that a number of problems had emerged. Chief among these is finding the money to replace the old vehicles.
“We can’t start using new buses as per our transportation plan. We need more time to prepare a budget for it,” he said.
However, an overhaul of routes will be launched on January 15 as originally planned, with existing buses plying the new routes, Maung Aung said.
The YUTA was formed by Phyo Min Thein last year and will replace the Central Supervisory Committee for Motor vehicles, also known as Ma Hta Tha. Presently Ma Hta Tha manages most of the 335 bus lines and 7000 vehicles on the network.
When the government is able to properly launch the changes to the bus system, Ma Hta Tha will be disbanded and some of its staff shifted to YUTA, said U Hla Aung, the Ma Hta Tha chairman.
Owner of No 45 bus line, Ko Tayoke Lay, said both the government and private bus line owners were facing difficulties implementing the proposed changes.
“The main problem is finding the money to buy the new buses. Another thing is that most people don’t like Ma Hta Tha,” he said.
The Yangon Region government is considering applications from existing bus lines to merge and form eight new public companies to operate buses on the network.
Those that get the green light will join Yangon Bus Public Company, which launched a BRT-Lite system last year, and Bandoola Transportation, a subsidiary of military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited.
U Myo Win, a bus line owner who is leading the Future Public Transportation Company bid, said the new lines couldn’t get buses until they receive government approval.
“Only then will we be able to get the loans we need from the banks to buy the new vehicles,” he said.
In a recent policy note on urban transport, the Asian Development Bank warned that Yangon’s transport system was approaching breaking point due to the rapid increase in the use of passenger cars.
In just three years – from April 2012 to April 2015, car numbers doubled from 160,000 to 320,000. Bus services have lost customers at a rate of 10 percent a year. Average vehicle speeds are thought to have dropped from 30 kilometres per hour to as little as 10kmh between 2007 and 2015.
“If current trends continue unchecked, Yangon’s urban transport could become a major constraint on economic growth,” the ADB warned, adding that traffic could “grind to a halt”.
“While buses are well-used, they are of low quality and not responsive to demand. As such, an increasingly affluent population is likely to reject low-quality transport modes in favour of private transport … This would dramatically degrade bus transport conditions and push more users to shift to cars.”