[gallery type="slideshow" ids="108491,108492,108493,108494,108495,108496,108497,108498,108499,108500"] RANGOON – Two young women with metal milk cans run for the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) after hurriedly arriving at downtown Rangoon’s Lanmadaw Township station; the BRT bus had arrived minutes earlier and was pulling away from the stop. The driver gestures for them to proceed, where he waits. At peak hour, commuting to and from work is a taxing experience for Rangoon’s residents, whether by bus or taxi. For those who live beyond the downtown, travel can take two to three hours each way, as traffic is unavoidable on every road and street. These two women—like other long-distance travellers from Hlegu, Tikegyi, Hmawbi and Mingaladon townships—also wanted to avoid the crowded, slow and increasingly unpleasant city buses. After they are seated on the BRT, they appear visibly relieved and express gratitude to the driver who waited for them—the next bus could take between ten minutes and an hour to arrive. “We have to come downtown everyday to sell our milk,” said Wai Wai, 22, whose product comes from a dairy farm in Hlegu Township, north of Rangoon, near the border with Pegu. “We take the bus every day, and we have to run everyday too,” she said. Her commute to the city takes about two hours each way. Wai Wai and her niece leave home at 5 o’clock in the morning and usually arrive back home around at around 10 p.m. Currently, the BRT, which launched in February, operates two circular routes, starting from Htauk Kyant sub-township in Mingaladon Township, which serves as an intersection for Hlegu and Hmawbi Townships and Pegu Division. The routes follow Pyay Road and Kabar Aye Pagoda Road respectively, with designated stops along the way. Better Security Rangoon, Burma’s economic capital with a population of about 5.2 million, according to the 2014 census, has a deteriorating public transport system. More than 70 percent of the residents rely on buses for their daily commutes, according to 2015 figures from the Yangon City Development Committee. Quicker arrival times and air-conditioning attracts passengers to the BRT, even if they have to switch to other buses in order to reach their final destinations. Wai Wai is one such customer: after arriving in Htauk Kyant, she has to take a second local bus to get to Hlegu Township, but she said that she does not mind the shift. One passenger, Ko Zaw, a construction company employee residing in Oakkyin, Hlaing Township, is a regular rider of the BRT. “It is a comfortable ride; the air conditioning is on and they follow the traffic rules,” he said. “And it is less crowded than the regular bus, run by the ‘Mahtatha,’” he added, referencing Rangoon’s Central Supervisory Committee for Motor Vehicles and Vessels. Safe From Harassment BRT has so far proven a safer option for female passengers who are often exposed to physical or verbal harassment on other crowded city buses. “There is no conductor, so it frees us free from ‘ear rape,’” said Ko Zaw, referring to the unpleasant and commonly overheard harassment toward passengers from bus staff, especially toward young women. In Burma, bus conductors and assistants are often perceived as quite abrasive. “I have been freed from it for over a month,” said Wai Wai of the harassment she used to experience on other buses. Drivers of city buses are also seen as some of the most notorious violators of Rangoon’s traffic rules; buses often drive outside of their designated lanes, and then overtake other cars before re-entering the lane to quickly load new passengers, further clogging Rangoon’s already jammed streets. Public Awareness Needed To cover the 300 kyat (US$0.25) BRT fare, passengers have to use either a prepaid card or cash, which is inserted into a box next to the driver. The prepaid card, called “Any Pay,” can only be bought at eight stations, but staff selling the cards are often present on the bus to refill passengers’ accounts. It is a new system than what Rangoon residents are used to. Passengers have to pay the fee on their own, in contrast to other buses in the city, where a conductor or assistant comes through the aisles to collect it. The Irrawaddy once witnessed an elderly passenger forget to pay for his ride. “Maybe he was not aware of the system and might have been waiting for the money collector,” Ko Zaw speculated. Limited Service Currently, 45 buses traverse the BRT’s two routes. They first depart at 6 a.m. and make the final trip at 7 p.m. About 2,400-2,800 passengers take the bus every day on the Pyay Road route, and around 1,800 passengers use the bus every day on the newer Kabar Aye route, which was introduced two weeks ago. Dr. Maung Aung, the chairman of the Yangon Bus Public Company, said that his office has “received encouraging responses from the passengers.” “We aim for a better transport service system,” he said. They hope to add another 20 buses to the two existing routes, and plan to introduce more routes next year. Feedback has indicated that passengers would like more stops on the current routes, but Dr. Maung Aung said that it might not be possible just yet. “We will just keep implementing the current system, which focuses on the safety and a change from the noisy, tiresome experience,” he said.
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