RANGOON — On the first day of operation, commuters remained optimistic about Rangoon’s new public bus system despite overcrowded and delayed busses.
The new Yangon Bus Service (YBS) replaced the former capital’s notorious old bus system—the Rangoon Motor Vehicles Supervisory Committee also known as Ma Hta Tha—with 69 bus lines.
The regional government announced last week that the new public transit would serve the city’s commuters from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily with nearly 4,000 vehicles.
Long waits were observed at Rangoon bus stops Monday morning, however, with many blaming an insufficient number of buses traversing the routes on the first day of the new system.
Some busses scheduled to start today were not ready on time.
Many good-natured drivers of private vehicles could be seen picking up weary commuters as they waited for buses to arrive.
It was a good day for taxis, however, with reports of drivers charging above usual fares for frustrated commuters who gave up waiting.
Forty-nine-year old Ma Wah commuting from Tamwe Township to downtown said she was encouraged by the new public transit but said the buses should be more frequent.
“I have waited for 45 minutes at the bus stop since early this morning but didn’t see a bus I could get,” she said. “The only bus that arrived was packed full and I couldn’t manage to get on board,” she complained.
Ahlone Township resident Ma Aye Cho Thwe who was commuting to North Dagon on Monday morning told The Irrawaddy that the shift to the new system was “applauded” but there were many inconveniences on the first day.
“The starting and ending points of the bus routes changed, I had to walk further as buses don’t go through the [downtown] roads they used to anymore,” she said.
About 4,000 volunteers from different philanthropic and charity organizations led by regional lawmakers occupied some 2,000 bus stops across the city on Monday, distributing flyers that included bus route information and helping install the YBS mobile application.
The volunteers will be present until Friday assisting commuters with the shift to the new system.
Regional lawmaker Ko Nay Phone Latt of Thingangyun Township, who is on the supervisory team overseeing the volunteers, said as much as he was optimistic about the new system, he thinks the regional government should have thoroughly planned the new system so as not to inconvenience commuters.
“The major issue I observed was insufficient time preparing for the immediate shift as there were no regular buses going across the city, which resulted in overcrowding at the bus stops,” he said.
The volunteers also surveyed commuters on the new public transit in order to report their feedback to the regional government. Bus fares range from 100-300 kyats, depending on distances of travel.
He said the volunteer groups will sit down for a meeting reviewing all the complaints received on Monday and will look for solutions.
“Lawmakers are the ones engaging with the public most closely,” lawmaker Ko Nay Phone Latt said. “The government should have asked for suggestions from lawmakers about which routes should remain unchanged and how it could be managed.”
The new public transit system managed by the Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA) will end the overlap of bus lines in a move to eliminate competition between buses.
The regional government hopes the new system will also relieve some of the traffic congestion in the hub of the city, limiting the bus lines to serve downtown.
According to the new system, buses previously operated under Ma Hta Tha had to register with the YRTA to be able to continue in the new system. Some 3,000 individually-owned buses have come on board, according to joint secretary U Than Win of the YRTA.
The buses operating under the new system have yet to install digital payment systems, which will only be implemented in the next three-month phase, Rangoon chief minister U Phyo Min Thein told the media at a press conference on Saturday.
U Phyo Min Thein said that after the city’s commuters get used to the new system, the government will improve the condition of the vehicles, then the security of the buses, and the payment system. He hopes to finish the whole reform process by the end of 2017, allotting each area three months.
Once the payment system goes digital, the regional government will require individual bus owners to become part of the recently selected eight public-private partnership firms to facilitate the new system.
The eight companies include Bandoola Transportation Co. Ltd.—run by the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.—as well as other existing private bus line operators.
The Yangon Bus Public Co., Ltd. (YBPC)—the city’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system—is a public company launched in February last year. Its buses currently traverse three routes in the city and provide an electronic ticketing service.
According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s 2014 survey on public transportation in Rangoon, 61 percent of Rangoon’s population relies on public transportation and 49 percent of all commuters use the bus—approximately 2.6 million people.