Women find a controversial niche on Yangon bus system

A bus owner who launched a revolutionary new concept to make customers happier and increase profits – hire only women as conductors – is contemplating breaking another barrier: training women to drive the buses as well.

But even bringing on women conductors has proven controversial, with some questioning whether they would survive in the rough-and-tumble of the “ordinary” buses, where there are no limits on passenger numbers and conductors have to struggle through the crowd to collect fares.

In all of Yangon, only the No 48 bus route employs women conductors, and all 13 of them can be found on the 13 buses owned by Ko Ta Yoke Lay.

The route runs from Danyingone in Insein township along Insein Road and ends on Sule Pagoda Road, near City Hall.

As of last June, Ko Ta Yoke Lay owned only five buses. Eager to improve the city’s public transportation system, the first thing he did was to hire women conductors. Then he trained them.

“They treat passengers politely. Transportation is about providing a service to passengers. Bus conductors are not aware of this. As things stand, bus owners are not getting the profits they hoped for, the conductors are not making money, and the passengers are not happy,” said Ko Ta Yoke Lay.

Unafraid of controversy, nine months ago he installed air conditioning on all his buses too. “I would like to hire more women, but I only own 13 buses,” he said. “Although the No 48 line has 100 buses, I can hire women only for the buses I own. Other women have applied to me for conductors’ jobs, but I don’t have any more buses.”

Next stop: teaching women to drive buses. “The most important thing is a good attitude. I want to upgrade the standard of living of bus conductors. If they want to learn to drive, I will support them. Maybe one day, they can be bus owners,” Ko Ta Yoke Lay said.

The women conductors receive about the same income as their male counterparts – K7000 to K8000 a day, depending on takings from fares.

Ma Myat Su Win said she worked as a conductor for 10 months and found it difficult but satisfying.
“It was no problem for me. We had to deal with many different types of people every day, but I tolerated all passengers as much as I could because my job is to give them service,” she said.

Passengers agreed that the introduction of women conductors had lifted service standards.

“I think women conductors are better than the men. I feel comfortable with them and they ask for the bus fare very politely,” said regular commuter Ma Witt Yee, from Hlaing township.

But Ko Aung Kyaw from Kyauktada said he thought the women conductors might struggle on other lines, which are typically more crowded.

“If they work on ordinary buses, which are very crowded with passengers, it can be very dangerous for them,” he said. “But I like their service.”

Male bus conductors expressed similar concerns.

“I think women do not make suitable conductors. They can only work on the 48 bus line because these buses have air conditioning and carry the right number of passengers,” said conductor Ko Pyae Phyo Win.

“Other buses carry as many passengers as they can get. Even for me it’s difficult to collect fares during peak hours.”

Bus owner U Myo Win said he had no plans to introduce female conductors on his vehicles.

“It’s not suitable for them on an ordinary bus line,” he said. “We take as many passengers as we can because we need money and we need to hit our targets. I’m only having male conductors.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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