Monday, March 03, 2008

No Public Transport

I've written about this before, about how the lack of public transport in Phnom Penh means poor people end up paying a large percentage of their income on private transport. The thought came up again today, that Cambodia should have a public transport system within cities, but for another reason. We were having a beer by the river here in Siem Reap. Siem Reap has far from fulfilled its potential and can be such a lovely place for tourists. Instead, it is likely to be more unpleasant. With the tourist boom attracting more people to the town, traffic for one thing, will become worse. I was just having an email conversation with someone who has lived in Phnom Penh for 8 years and has seen how the traffic has exploded there.

Why is there no public transport within towns in Cambodia? Not even in the capital Phnom Penh. There cannot be many cities the size of Phnom Penh without public transport. It seems at one point, there was a public bus plying the main road of the city, because I have seen signposts of the bus schedule in a couple of places (one along Sihanouk Boulevard). They must be a remnant of the past. But I had no luck Googling this. Why did public transport in Phnom Penh fail? Who ran it? For how long?

Of course the reason there is no public system must be that the government cannot be bothered with it. Here is the mission statement of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. It is nothing to do with the provision of transport, only with infrastructure.

And here is what the World Bank says about the problem

Urban Transport

The Cambodia urban transport infrastructure was severely damaged and/or neglected during the years of fighting. In Cambodia, all urban transport is road based and traffic volumes are growing rapidly, especially in Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. Public transport is limited to buses as there are no subways in the country.

There is no formally adopted road and road transport policy in Cambodia, and this particularly affects urban road transport. Phnom Penh has emerging congestion problems and there is a need for a strategic transport policy to set the proper framework. This needs to consider factors such as facilities for non-motorized traffic, the role of rail, and private sector involvement, especially in the area of establishing road tolls. There is also a need to ensure sufficient finance for urban road maintenance as well as paving unpaved roads in urban areas.,,contentMDK:20458706~menuPK:2066305~pagePK:34004173~piPK:34003707~theSitePK:574066,00.html

"Private sector involvement, especially in the area of establishing road tolls"? Is that the most pressing reason to get the private sector involved? How about getting the private sector to supply public transport first?

This topic has obviously been debated as I found one letter writer, Stan Khan, who wrote in the Phnom Penh Post, Issue 13/09, April 23 - May 6, 2004 arguing:

"Cambodia should look to the Philippines and its Jeepney minibus system as a model for public transit.

Jeepneys are individually owned but they operate on fixed routes without public subsidy and provide urban transportation in the range of 500 to 600 riel equivalent."

A minibus system should be very easy to set up.

The city would lay out the routes, establish basic rules and fares and sell low-cost permits to anyone who wants to provide service.

The more the city is able to replace motorbikes with multi-passenger vehicles the better off it will be in terms of congestion, accidents and serious injuries."

There are private bus companies like GST and Sorya but these only provide inter-province services. Are the companies not allowed, or do they find it financially non-viable to provide the service within the city and towns?

If prevention of accidents is not a big enough reason for the government to provide public transport, how about thinking about productivity, as less congestion means people get to work on time. Think about how much wastage there is in a place like Bangkok, where people's time is spent in traffic. Or how about thinking about pollution? Phnom Penh and Siem Reap could be such nice places to live if not for the vehicle exhaust fumes.

It's probably harder than it seems to get a public transport system right and people the world over complain about their country's public transport. But we have to start somewhere. Certainly Singapore went through its share of difficulties in establishing a nationwide transport system. You can read about its history here:


Thepriceisright.cambodia said...

He! Is this a co-incidence? crossing cambodia

Diana Saw said...

Hi thepriceisright, what cool blogs you have! i'll add links to my blog. thanks also for posting the bus stop photo i mentioned! i'm sorry i didn't take a photo of it. i really should go around with a camera.

i'm inspired by your price blog to compare prices here in Siem Reap, which are more expensive than in PP cos many things are brought up from PP. still, Lucky is scheduled to open here this month, so i can get reasonably priced and reliable stocks of muesli again! i miss Lucky (and Orussey and Olympic and Psar Kupkow...)


PinaywifeAtbp said...

I've been living here in Phnom Penh for close to two years and though I like it here already, one thing that constantly bothers me is the lack of public transport. Yes, there are motodups and tuk-tuks but if you think about it, they are too expensive.

I used to remember in the Philippines where I'm from I simply have to take a jeepney and it would take me about 7 km and the price is just less than 10 pesos roughly 10 Riels and I doubt I could get a motodup to bring me around at that distance for the same price.

I sure hope they could establish a working public transport system. After all, its not only expats and tourists who would benefit from it but more so for the average Khmer.

I realize that trying to go for sophisticated transport systems of Singapore, Malaysia and other SE countries can still be a bit far fetched for Cambodia so the Philippines' jeepney system can be a great model for a public transpo here. It could provide a livelihood opportunity for some too.

For sure, setting up a public transpo system is difficult but if this country want to step up and be at par with other countries in the region, then a few bumps and difficulties is something that can be surpassed.


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