How can we solve Yangon’s traffic problems?

The chaotic traffic in Yangon appears to worsen every day while attempts to solve the problem remain stuck, placing commuters’ lives and livelihoods in increasingly greater jeopardy.

Commuters are forced to waste valuable time in transit. The affects those working in the transportation sector worst of all. Bus line owners complain of the declining the number of routes buses are able to run in a day. Some bus routes that could previously have been run ten times per day have fallen down to five.

Much of Yangon’s traffic woes began after the government changed its Automobile Import Policy. Newly imported cars are arriving in a city with an outdated road system or and few parking structures. This, Yangon’s traffic has grown rapidly during this year.

In an effort to untangle the traffic issue, the city government began the installation of overpasses in late 2011. These were designed to reduce traffic jam at the most heavily traveled areas – Hledan, Shwegondine, Bayintnaung and Tamwe. Overpasses were ultimately installed in all but Tamwe.

A traffic study focusing on Tamwe intersection found that the five-point junction doesn’t need an overpass, and no overpass was installed. The installations at the other three were proceeded. The construction permissions were granted to Shwetaung Co. for the Hledan overpass project, Capital Development for Shwegondine and FMI to build double overpasses at Bayintnaung intersection. All three were completed behind schedule.

Furthermore, even installations were completed, the traffic problems seem unchanged.

Analysis shows that the studies leading to the construction of the overpasses were not systematic, nor were their designs, and the projects were granted to companies with connections to the government.

Another overpass at Myaynigone is set to be completed by the end of next March. It is unclear whether the new overpass would cure the traffic jam at Myaynigone intersection.

“Overpasses are being installed but they cannot reduce traffic jams at all. Traffic was the worst during the construction period. It is not only happening in downtown [Yangon] but also in other places [in Yangon]. Plus, there are not enough parking lots, so [motorists] often double-park. Thanks to undisciplined drivers, traffic jams are chaotic in small streets of downtown. The worst part is that downtown doesn’t have enough parking lots. The issue will continue,” said businessman Hlaing Ko Ko.

In order to encourage drivers’ adherence to rules and regulations, YCDC began towing parked cars away from 37 major roads in Yangon where it is now prohibited to park. The towing program began last November.

The scarcity of parking spots now causes drivers to park in small alleys and lanes, further worsening traffic on local streets. People living on these blocks complain that they are not able park their cars on their own streets.

“Previously, there were traffic jams on our street, but now it is completely blocked. It takes time to untangle. Plus, we cannot park our cars in the street anymore. It is happening every day. The problems began when the rules and regulations were introduced that prohibit parking on the 37 major streets. Therefore, we urge authority to solve this issue,” said a resident of Mahabandoola Garden Street.

Instead of reversing the parking prohibitions, YCDC gradually expanded the no-parking zone to include 95 major streets over the last year.

Cars cannot park in these areas except to load and unload passengers, and if the car is found parked at no parking zones, the car will be towed with a crane car, and the owner will be fined. Authorities took action against over 13,500 car owners between November 2013 and the last week of September 2014, collecting over Ks 3.1 billion in fines. Although the government fine is Ks 25,000 per car, the charges of the tow truck can be Ks 50,000 and above. The new parking regulations seem to benefit cane car owners at the expense of commuters.

Furthermore, car owners have to go to the 51st traffic police office to pay their fines, even if it is not the nearest traffic police office to them. This wastes time and costs more for car owners.

“When the government moved administrative power to Nay Pyi Taw, they left Yangon like a town with no regulations. There is no discipline, including traffic control, since the administrative power moved from here. Yangon had very strict discipline since the beginning, but now all drivers in Yangon are breaking traffic rules and regulations. The culprits of the traffic jam are both the authorities and the drivers. They are making traffic in Yangon worse. Most of the drivers have no discipline, and the administrative sector is weak. If there were discipline, it would be Ok if the traffic were jammed,” said Ye Myint, a resident of Yangon.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said one of the reasons for the traffic jam is the scarcity of parking in Yangon. This appears to be true. Authorities made free parking lots on Anawratha, Bogyoke, Thein Phyu, Mahabandoola and Strand roads, but they are insufficient. Although there is a little more parking space, some vehicles park for days in one place, preventing other vehicles from parking. Moreover in some places, there are lamp posts and trees blocking the parking lots. Some street vendors spread their wares on the road, blocking additional parking spaces.

The authorities do not have enough land plots, funding, basic infrastructures or techniques to construct more car parking. They are the primary obstacle to expanding car parking.

They cannot build car parking lots which to accommodate many cars as they have no land or management capacity. The authorities, especially YCDC, have no big land plots to construct car parks. YCDC initiated a tender to construct high rise car parking and modernized car parks, and and the tender selection process will begin on November 25. The proposed locations are on 45th Street in Botahtaung Township and at the corner of Hledan and Htantapin roads. The fifteen-story car parking project located in Seikkanthar Street has been temporarily stopped as a contractor opposed the project, showing that it is not easy to construct car parks, and the authorities cannot determine exactly when the facilities will be finished and when they can be used.

“I want to advise the authorities that they need to create car parking lots to match with the number of cars in the city. Yangon does not have enough car parking lots now,” said advisor U Than from YCDC.

“The problem is the lack of parking lots. The authorities never make necessary preparations whenever there is a plan. Those who are not experts have taken a number of higher posts. This is a major problem we are facing. We need to put the right man in the right place. It is crucial. The departments need to hire experts if they are unable to do it themselves. Even a football team has to spend millions of dollars to hire a trainer. We need to hire experts for works we cannot do. Only then will the projects run smoothly,” said Yangon resident Ye Myint.

To deal with the unbalanced ratio of cars and roads, the authorities must also review the car import policy. Myanmar is importing about 100,000 yearly, 80 or 90 percent of which are running in Yangon. Now the number of imported cars has reached over 400,000.

The government should limit the number of imported cars in Yangon. The green-light should be given to other regions and states.

Cars and taxies from other regions and states are running in Yangon due to the lack of market demands and low license fees. Yangon Region Government has estimated that the number of such cars and taxies accounts for one-third of the total number of cars in Yangon. Some are criticising that it has compounded the traffic jam problem. The authority has instructed those car owners to remain in their respective regions and states. In an effort to control such cars, the city government will start collecting fees on those cars as of November 26.

Under this plan, those cars that will run in the Yangon city municipal area have to pay fees on a daily basis. This plan aims to solve traffic congestions in Yangon. But we need to monitor whether or not this plan will meet success.

“We must review car import policy and reduce the number of car imports on the one hand. The government should build necessary infrastructures for parking lots on the other hand,” said Than Oo, an advisor from the Yangon City Development Committee.

Roads in Yangon are also in need of maintenance. The height of roads in Yangon grows higher due to the resurfacing of damaged roads. Water flows into the houses when there are heavy rains. People have to use main roads as there are no platforms to walk. The city must rebuild platforms and persuade road vendors not to block them.

People in Yangon also suffer floods caused by the inadequate drainage system. Floods caused by heavy rains have blocked the road networks, resulting in the traffic jams. The government needs to effectively deal with this problem by laying down a master plan to use a large sum of money on the drainage system and roads and bridges.

Officials have stressed that these problems are to be solved within six months by means of repairing outdated traffic posts in Yangon.

Recently, the city started using an auto traffic clearance system. Thanks to that system, traffic jam problems in 8th Mile junction have been reduced. Installation of this auto system in all traffic posts will cost US$40 million. The authorities have said the auto traffic clearance system will be installed in all traffic posts. This may alleviate the traffic jam problem to a certain extent.

“I will submit a motion related to traffic woes. I have submitted two motions before. This is the case in Thingangyun Township. The authorities said they would cooperate. But they did not keep their promises. People are holding discussions on the projects to be implemented in the coming 4, 5 and 10 years at workshops. But they don’t seek the ways to solve the current problems. The workshops always highlight theories only. Now we have flyovers and need to think of how these flyovers can solve traffic jam problems. It is just like the case of the doctor who is still searching for medicine books while the patient is dying,” said MP U Kyaw from Thingangyun Township.

How to tackle Yangon’s worsening traffic jams is questionable. The authorities need to take effective measures to deal with this problem by laying down plans immediately.


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