Tin Maung Than
The biggest problem in Yangon today is the mega traffic jams the whole commercial city is facing almost every day. Except on the Myanmar New Year Day (on which only the famous pagodas are crowded with a very large number of Buddhist pilgrims) and one or two days afterwards, Yangon streets have become driver-friendly and parking-friendly again as they were ten or more years ago. Traveling on these two or three days in the city is a dream both for drivers and passengers.
But nowadays we will have to concede that traffic jams have become the symbol or everyday life of Yangon. Taxi drivers charge more as these jumbo traffic jams eat up most of their previous money-making hours. As for city bus drivers and ticket collectors, it is an irritating situation making them rude and short tempered that commuters have to take these public transport vehicles at their mercy. Most of the commuters have become early birds riding these overcrowded slow-moving vehicles for long hours while exercising total restraint all along their journey from the start to the end. So, some jokingly say that taking the public transport enhances power of forbearance. In many cases passengers are pulled into and push out of the still moving vehicle by ticket collectors which make bus-riding something like a theme-park adventure!
As for the private cars finding a place to park is the most difficult thing that is even harder than the work of driving on the congested thoroughfares where some cars, especially commuter buses and taxies practice racing, wrong lane driving or aggressive driving. Because of such acts and traffic violations to reach the destination fastest Yangon is prone to road accidents which make comprehensive motor vehicle insurance the most popular business of the insurance industry.
Surprisingly, Yangon has worse traffic snarl-ups than Tokyo or Seoul yet the number of registered cars in the Myanmar’s commercial city is much fewer than those two mega metropolises of the Asian economic giants.
So what is happening in Yangon? What is the cause of these mega traffic jams of Yangon that is not a mega city yet?
One thing is that Yangon has not many or no specific parking areas or zones as the work of building special places for keeping cars has been in its planning stage. So, most of the cars have to park on the roadside platforms shrinking the area of traffic lanes of thoroughfares or leaving only a small area for cars rolling on the narrow streets. This expands the volume of traffic jams and lengthens their existence. Another problem is the lack of discipline among many drivers. Some even don’t know the traffic rules thoroughly although they are holding a driving license.
One main contributor towards these mammoth jams is the plummeting automobile prices that many in Yangon now can own a car despite the scarcity of parking places. Although authorities have built flyovers with the participation of private companies they are not the real answer to the problem. For example, Hledan junction is still crowded with cars despite the emergence of an overpass. In the past, we heard about some gigantic Yangon extension plans that might alleviate traffic jams. But what they were not clear might be the lack transparency. One possible reason was that the company concerned might not want to release any information before the start of the project, for it was afraid of unnecessary information leak.
Some people dream of underground tubes that are reducing the number of cars on roads even in the cities like Bangkok notorious for their huge traffic congestions. As the cost of building a city subway system is very high and the work is much sophisticated we may need financial and technical assistance from international community to have one in Yangon city.
International financial bodies like World Bank, IMF, Asia Development Bank are working together with Myanmar on infrastructure development projects, and a number of countries are offering help for the same purpose. But we still need more if we are going to launch a gigantic infrastructure project like a city subway system. The best is not yet come. But we can start with what is within our capacity.
For example, building multi-storey car parks, erecting double-decker roads instead of flyovers, improving the existing city circular railway system, strengthening the BRT force and operations, extending the roads where and when possible, enforcing traffic rules and completing the renovation works of underground conduits and cables that involve parts of roads in time can also do the job.