RANGOON — Bus lines in Rangoon Division are to be reduced from 357 to only 50, according to Hla Aung, chairman of the Rangoon Division Motor Vehicles Supervisory Committee (known by the Burmese-language acronym “Ma Hta Tha”). The volume of buses that would ply the reduced number of routes has not been specified.
The move was announced in a meeting between Hla Aung and the Rangoon Division Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein on Sunday. The goals discussed were: reducing traffic congestion, which has reached chronic levels in Rangoon in recent years as an unintended consequence of economic reforms; reducing the financial burden faced by bus travelers; and providing an all-around higher quality service for the public.
Although over 7,600 buses are registered with Ma Hta Tha, currently between 4,500 and 4,800 city buses are plying 357 bus lines across Rangoon Division’s 33 townships, according to Hla Aung.
A regular criticism from Rangoon’s residents is that public bus routes regularly overlap. This is believed to heighten congestion and greatly reduce efficiency in the service.
Hla Aung confessed that Ma Hta Tha has issued “many” permits for private bus lines operating on the same route, which had deflated profits. Ma Hta Tha would not comment on the effect this has had on congestion, but noted that up to 20 bus lines are plying the same route on certain stretches.
“At the very least, we can resolve this disarray by re-routing these bloated bus lines”, said Hla Aung.
Myo Win, owner of the private Hlaing Dagon bus line, who was present for the Sunday meeting at the office of the Rangoon divisional government, praised the initiative but made a formal recommendation that the divisional government renew the Ma Hta Tha committee and invite bus line owners to participate, so that they could raise any issues directly with the government.
“There is a stubborn ‘old man’ mindset [at Ma Hta Tha]. We must change it,” said Myo Win.
Myo Win also recommended support for the use of CNG (compressed natural gas) fuel in buses, raising passenger fees, and switching to an electronic iPay card payment system. He explained that, by changing the payment method in this way, bus owners could guard against cheating by drivers and bus conductors, who may overcharge passengers or skim money off of fees paid in cash.
Hla Aung declined to comment on whether the number of vehicles would be decreased under the new plan, or when implementation would start. He said the project would be led by the Rangoon divisional government. He claimed that Ma Hta Tha had no authority to determine bus lines, since they are not an executive agency and merely oversee the operations of private bus lines.
Ma Hta Tha was founded in 1962 by retired military generals, but has collaborated closely with the government at each stage of its history. Ma Hta Tha collects 2 percent of the daily revenue of bus lines in Rangoon; five percent of this amount is spent on Ma Hta Tha’s administrative costs, according to Hla Aung. However, the Parami, Shwe Than Lwin and Shwe Ae Thay bus lines are not overseen by Ma Hta Tha. Parami comes under the military-owned conglomerate Union Of Myanmar Economic Holdings.
It is widely speculated in Rangoon that overly long bus routes also contribute to congestion in downtown areas of the city, with buses from many different lines culminating in too narrow a space. In order to ease traffic further, it follows that Ma Hta Tha should designate shorter bus routes, with multiple transit points across the different townships of Rangoon.
Hla Aung said he personally agreed with this view, but he added that the implementation of such changes were up to the new government.