Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘The Success of the System Will Depend Largely on Management’

By The Irrawaddy 21 January 2017

Ye Ni: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss the Yangon Bus Service (YBS). Irrawaddy news crew members Ma May Sitt Paing and Ko Tun Tun will join me for the discussion. I’m Irrawaddy Burmese editor Ye Ni.

We have seen the impact as the buses of the new public transit system have hit the roads. As you have been reporting on this change—the shift from Ma Hta Tha [the Burmese acronym for the Yangon Motor Vehicles Supervisory Committee] to YBS—you have heard the voices of commuters and drivers in the new system and the headaches of the Yangon Region Transport Authority [YRTA]. What is your overall assessment of the new system? Have the reforms made the public transit network better or worse? Ma May Sitt Paing, what have you heard?

May Sitt Paing: For the time being, I have heard both applause and criticism. As the entire system has been changed, some have said that it would relieve some traffic congestion in the city. But at least right now, buses are overcrowded, and commuters do not yet know which bus to take and have to change two or three times [because there is no direct bus to their destination now]. And commuters have to pay more in bus fares since they have to change two or three times. I have heard both good things and bad things about the new system.

YN: It was not the government that responded to immediate problems after the launch of the new system, but the private sector—some offered free rides, and students helped commuters with directions. What do you think of the public transit reform, Ko Tun Tun? What have you heard?

Tun Tun: People are experiencing inconveniences. Commuters don’t know directions and there isn’t a sufficient number of buses for them, so there is overcrowding as a result.

YN: According to YRTA, previously there were over 300 bus lines, but now there are only 61 bus lines, including the nine latest additions. And previously, there were over 7,000 buses and now there are around 3,700 buses. We can only hope that traffic congestion will ease. Do you think 3,700 buses on 61 bus lines are sufficient for 2 million commuters? For example, we’ve seen bus-stops like Sanpya and Thakhin Mya Garden thronged with commuters waiting for buses. What have they said about this inconvenience?

MSP: I don’t think it is good to run just over 3,000 buses for around 2 million commuters. I’m afraid all those buses can’t operate daily because there may be breakdowns, among other problems. Currently, many commuters have flocked to trains. It is not convenient for commuters that they have to change buses two or three times. I’ve heard a divisional minister say that people can report the issues they’re facing with buses to Rangoon’s divisional government.

YN: We initially heard that there would be a bus every two or three minutes during rush hour.

MSP: YRTA said that there would be a bus every three minutes.

YN: But we’ve heard commuters say that they don’t see a bus even every 15 minutes, and so there are large crowds of commuters at bus stops. These are the inconveniences commuters are facing. But what about bus drivers? What troubles are they experiencing? For example, Rangoon Division Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein said some buses could not operate on Monday because they did not finish posting stickers [to display the bus line number so that commuters know on which route the bus is operating]. So buses could not operate only because of this, or are there other troubles bus drivers are facing? What have you heard, Ko Tun Tun?

TT: U Phyo Min Thein said that some buses were not ready because of the stickers. But bus drivers and conductors have other difficulties, too. They have to get up and start working at 5am, and by the time it is 9am, they are already tired, I’ve found. Moreover, because buses are crowded, it is not easy for bus conductors to collect bus fares. YRTA said money boxes will be installed in buses into which commuters can put their money, but it is not convenient to do so for the time being. And some bus lines running along Strand Road, downtown and in Dagon (North), did not operate at all on Monday.

YN: We knew nothing about how Rangoon Division Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein had negotiated with individual bus line owners. Previously, in the time of Ma Hta Tha, buses were privately owned and bus drivers and conductors got their share of income daily, and therefore they drove competitively against one another. But now, as Ma Hta Tha is replaced with YBS, this will change, and bus line owners might not like it. What have you heard, Ma May Sitt Paing?

MSP: Individual bus owners have to join YBS now. Previously, the daily income was shared between bus owners, drivers, and conductors. But they’re not sure with the new system. They don’t know if they will receive wages daily or weekly, or how they’re receive them. They don’t know if they have to claim their wages at YBS’s Office. As far as I’m concerned, they will claim their wages daily at YBS’s Office. Bus line operators still don’t know how profits will be shared. Bus drivers and conductors previously shared the money they earned daily. Now they don’t know for sure if they have to share the money or if they will get a monthly salary.

YN: Since the change was made suddenly and it was a complete change from one system to another, it seems that both passengers and bus line operators are finding it difficult to adapt to it, and therefore there are many troubles. And U Phyo Min Thein asked to wait for a week or so for the new system to take shape. But what will be better once that system begins to take shape?

TT: Commuters may have some troubles with the new bus system early on. But I think they will get used to it gradually. And one good thing about the new system is that I think it will ease traffic woes.

YN: What about you Ma May Sitt Paing?

MSP: In the time of Ma Hta Tha, there were problems between bus drivers, conductors, and passengers, and bus drivers drove competitively against one another [to get more passengers]. I hope that these problems will disappear under the new system. If YRTA takes control and regulates them, these problems will largely disappear. This should be an advantage of the new system.

YN: I hope this system will take shape gradually. And at the same time, we need to take care of certain groups of people among Rangoon’s residents: elderly people, people with disabilities, and daily wage earners and odd-job workers who live on the outskirts. I think they are still out of reach of the new bus system. So I hope there will be a better system that considers their needs. But for the time being, many doubt if commuters will get used to the new system within one week. Under such circumstances, I think volunteers [who provided free rides and helped commuters with directions] deserve credit. Ko Tun Tun, what have you heard from them?

TT: I interviewed volunteers, and they said they volunteered because they support the new system. They offered help because they support change. They gave both their time and money to volunteer. Some who have cars offered free rides. They said that they offered help because they want to see the abolishment of the old Ma Hta Tha system and the establishment of a new system.

YN: We have now witnessed the start of a new public transit system, which is expected to bring about social improvements for Rangoon residents. And we have also seen town residents showing great support for the system in hopes that it will usher in a new era of urban development. I don’t think we can just turn back, saying we don’t like this system. It is critical to reform as quickly as possible the things that need to be changed. And Rangoon Division Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein and town authorities have to take responsibility for this. Goodwill alone is not enough to make the public transit network reform a success. The success of the system will depend largely on management. Thank you for your contributions!