August 19, 2016

State Owned Public Buses

San ShweAung

Triple coach extended bus.
Triple coach extended bus.

One of the most debated subjects among the public in Yangon is the bad services of public buses plying in the streets of the city.  Public transport in the big cities around the world is essential for tens of thousands of commuters who go to work or travel for personal, social, religious & business matters daily. City authorities plan and operate the public transport services as smooth as possible. In many countries public bus services & routes have been increased and upgraded using advanced technology to satisfy the increased number of users and demand for quality and comfort in traveling from point A to point B.  In many cities particularly in tropical countries, public buses are upgraded in better seats, convenient agronomic steps, flooring, hand rails which are also children & disabled persons friendly. Number of air conditioned buses have increased dramatically. To maximize the space of the roads, double decker buses are also put into service. In some cities such as in Beijing in China the double or triple extended coaches are used to increase the capacity of the bus. The latter however is appropriate for wide roads and less traffic since it is very long, perhaps about 20 to 25 meters, and difficult to turn at the intersections.
In our country public buses in the big cities particularly in Yangon and Mandalay are in services for many years. But the commuters or customers of the public buses are not satisfied and even frustrated for many problems concerning the public bus service. As an ordinary citizen like many public bus users, I have been thinking,as many people do, how to improve the public bus services in our country. I am not a transportation engineer or an expert in public transport planning. However, I have been prompted to contemplate few common solutions though some experts or authorities might not agree for several reasons.
Quality of Buses (hardware): As all know the public buses being used in Yangon roads are very old such as crudely modified Hino –BM buses of 1960s, second or third hand, used city buses of various makes imported from Japan & South Korea and recently imported new buses from China. There is no standardized “make” of the public buses for example Hino or Isuzu or Volvo or Scania or Hyundai. We see all “makes” of buses from several countries on the road which make difficult in maintenance & repair due to needs for various spare parts and expertise. Most of the current buses are not maintained regularly since they are owned by individual businessmen who main priority is to squeeze money out of his investment as much as possible. They run the buses non-stop without giving days-off for maintenance, cleaning & repairs. It is known amongbus owners circles as…..(ခိုင်းစါးတယ်). Regular servicing and maintenance are the last priority of the bus owners. Therefore we have seen daily several public buses out of order &lying idle on the road making traffic congestion worse. The buses in Yangon are very dirty inside as well as on outside body. They will not wash and clean the buses for many days or even weeks. Thanks to the Ministry of Industry who few years back has successfully modifiedthe original diesel engines into CNG run engines. Our country has abundant natural gases and the conversion of diesel engines into Compressed Natural Gas engines is one of the most successful technical breakthrough. In addition CNG engines produce less carbon dioxide & carbon monoxide. As a result our city air quality is not as bad as in other cities where diesel engine buses are primarily employed.
Public bus time table:    Public bus services are generally based on regular operation of transit buses along a route calling at agreed bus stops according to a published public transport timetable. That is not existent in our country. In our country there are no time tables on the bus stops showing which number of the bus is arriving at what time. In many cities at each and every bus stop there is a time table upon which you can check the bus which you are expecting is coming to the bus stop. In advanced countries there is a daily standard practice for the commuters to catch the same bus to go to work at the same time& at the same bus stop nearby one’s home. However in a big city like Yangon with now notorious traffic congestion, planning bus time table will have very big challenges. To increase the number of buses on the routes during rush hours may be one clear solution to reduce the waiting time for the commuters.
No conductor and best services:        Very unpopular & at times rude behavior of Yangon bus conductors are the subjects of debates & interest of cartoonists to create satire , complaining article writers in media and public speakers in radio & television in our country for many years now. It has been said that workshops and training were conducted to change for better behavior for the bus spares (conductors are commonly called “spares” in Myanmar). Yet the general public face the same rude communication from most of the bus conductors. Here we need to think for a most effective solution leaping wide stride that “what if we have public buses without “spares” or conductors in Yangon?” Oh is it possible? Yes technologically it is possible. In Singapore there are more than 95% of the public buses without conductors. And it works perfectly.
State owned public buses:  What has been mentioned above are few key issues and obstacles in improving public bus service to give satisfaction and peace of mind of the general public.
The last and most crucial issue is, to me, that currently the buses and routes are owned by the private businessmen who are grouped under the well-known authority Ma HtaTha and other bodies to provide the bus transport services in the city. The transport authorities must have had very clear, rigid and standard rules & regulations for the public bus transport operation, for sure. But the bus drivers and spares (conductors) are not following to the rules, regulations and standards for their narrow minded gains & benefits which are clearly enforced by the owners of the buses. They have only one interest, to make as much money and profit as possible. In the process they race with speed dangerously with other bus, shout at the customers/commuters at their will, charge more fare than the fixed one, push down the people alighting from the bus and pull up the passengers (including young capable girls & women deliberately), stop the bus in the middle of the road and anywhere they please, contributing to worse traffic jams, so on and on. The solution will be that all public buses will be totally owned by only one authority, for example in Yangon, Ma HtaThafully backed by Yangon Region Government and Ministry of Transport & Communication and the current bus owners (private businessmen) can become the shareholders of the state ownedpublic company limited Ma HtaTha. State owned public company limited Ma HtaTha’s shares can then be definitely put on sales at Yangon Stock Exchange in near future to raise the required capital to improve quality of buses & services. Ma HtaTha will then be capable of providing best international standard buses without conductors to the general public. That is the only solution to solve Yangon public bus transportation woe.


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