Volunteers Jump on Board Regional Govt Launch of New Rangoon Bus System

By San Yamin Aung 13 January 2017

RANGOON — From guiding fellow commuters, to posting route stickers at bus stops, Rangoonites are getting involved in the regional government’s new public bus system, set to be launched on Monday.

Some offices in the commercial capital have temporarily delayed the morning start time for its employees as they navigate the new public transport routes. Logistics and travel companies are offering to run certain buses free of charge in the system’s early days, for the convenience of commuters. Hundreds of volunteers are signing up to work with philanthropic groups, the university student union, and with lawmakers in respective townships—all of whom are organizing efforts in cooperation with the local government to ease the transition to the new service.

Maps of the new bus lines will also be distributed at bus stands and volunteers will survey passengers on the new service in order to report their responses to the regional government.

Rangoon’s previous bus system—which ran for several decades—was notorious among the city’s residents for mismanagement, misconduct by drivers and conductors, and for contributing to the city’s traffic woes. Yet an estimated 2.6 million people rely on buses for their daily travel to and from work in Rangoon, making up 70 percent of all the city’s commuters.

An announcement at a press conference on Friday revealed that all 300 bus lines registered with the Rangoon Division Motor Vehicles Supervisory Committee—better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Hta Tha—would be replaced with 61 new bus lines on Jan. 16.

The new system will eliminate the overlap of bus lines in a move to avoid “races” between buses, a practice in which the vehicles compete for passengers and make unscheduled stops. Residents hope that this shift will also relieve some of the traffic congestion downtown.

Under the plan, an estimated 3,000 buses will serve the city, with bus fares ranging from 100-300 kyats, depending on the distance of travel. Over 7,800 buses are currently registered with Ma Hta Tha, of which between 4,500 and 4,800 run on any given day.

Facilitating the Change

The announcement to halt the Ma Hta Tha buses starting from Monday was largely applauded, but the fact that it occurred only days before the launch date has left little time for public education on the new service.

Rangoon chief minister U Phyo Min Thein invited volunteers on Tuesday to help facilitate the shift for passengers for one week, starting from Jan. 16. On Friday, he met with the regional lawmakers and groups who are organizing the outreach.

“It is really encouraging that people are getting actively involved in the government reforms,” said Ma Sabei Aung, who attended the Friday meeting on behalf of the philanthropic group “Extend a Helping Hand.”

She added that 300 volunteers from the group would be stationed at bus stops in Bohtataung Township. The volunteers wearing Yangon Bus Service (YBS) shirts will guide passengers to bus numbers, through transit changes and answer questions about new routes.

“About 600 people connected with us within 24 hours to volunteer after we posted on Facebook,” Ma Sabei Aung said. Around 2,000 university students are expected to volunteer in total.

Ko Paing Ye Thu, a leading member of the university student union, said the group would volunteer alongside other youth, concerned citizens, and lawmakers in each township, from Monday to Friday.

“Everyone who commutes by bus knows the problems that desperately need to change. We may face difficulties during the transition, but it will be a good system for everyone, and that’s why we are getting involved in it,” he said.