In Myanmar’s Commercial Capital, Mayor’s Sidewalk Store Plan Draws Criticism

By San Yamin Aung 21 August 2019

YANGON—A plan by the mayor of Myanmar’s commercial capital to install mini convenience stores next to bus stops has Yangonites and regional lawmakers crying foul.

They say the plan will only further reduce the already scarce space for pedestrians on its narrow sidewalks.

Yangon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe announced the plan during a press conference on Monday, saying the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC)—the city’s administrative body—will construct 25-square-foot mini convenience stores near busy bus stops and rent them to private vendors.

The YCDC plan comes as Yangonites have been bumping shoulders more and more on the city’s increasingly crowded sidewalks. Once famous for its wide-open walkways, the former capital lost most of its pedestrian space when the previous government eased restrictions on car imports and expanded roads at the cost of its sidewalks to accommodate the ensuing influx of vehicles.

The first stores are already being installed near People’s Square as a sample run.

The plan quickly drew widespread criticism on social media, including among regional lawmakers.

Daw Sandar Min, chairperson for the Yangon Regional Parliament’s Finance, Planning and Economic Committee, said through her official Facebook account that she is totally opposed to the plan.

Passengers crowd to get on a YBS bus at a bus stop near Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. / The Irrawaddy

“There isn’t even enough space for passengers to conveniently wait for the bus or to take shelter at bus stops on Yangon’s too-narrow platforms,” the lawmaker protested.

She cited a YCDC law that prohibits obstructions to public streets or sidewalks, including vending, without the committee’s approval; violations carry fines of between 100,000 and 500,000 kyats and 3-month jail terms for repeat offenders.

Daw Sandar Min wrote that she plans to oppose the plan in the city’s parliament.

Ma Kyi Pyar, a representative for downtown Kyauktada Township, isn’t happy with the plan either.

She said that, as city MPs try to enforce YCDC law by clearing downtown streets of vendors and food stalls in violation of it—at the request of citizens and pedestrians, she added—the mayor’s plan will only make things more difficult.

But, she conceded, “we don’t know the plan’s details yet, if stores will only be opened on wide platforms or not.”

Users expressed opposition on the mayor’s own Facebook page as well.

“We don’t even have space to walk. If there are stores there, we will have to wait for buses in the road,” one wrote.

Others said public roads shouldn’t be used for commercial purposes.

Yangon Heritage Trust Director Daw Moe Moe Lwin also expressed opposition, saying the city’s urban planning should prioritize improving mobility and making sure all pedestrians can walk freely without worrying for their safety every step they take. Opening stores on platforms will only make this more difficult, she said.

YCDC member Daw May May Thwe said at Monday’s press conference the plan was mainly intended to make things more convenient for commuters, with stores selling payment cards that will soon be introduced into the city’s bus payment system.

The plan is estimated to cost about 2 million kyats per store, according to the YCDC.

Yangon has more than 1,800 bus stops. It is not yet known how many stores are planned or at how many bus stops.