Pioneering bus line forced to lay off staff as losses mount

A joint attempt by the government and private sector to solve many of the problems of Yangon’s traffic congestion is close to collapse. Forever Green Road Transport has fired 15 bus conductors, about 30 percent of its total, citing monthly losses. A spokesperson for the company blamed the lack of government support.

The company – a joint venture with the Road Transport Department – was launched amid fanfare last year, raising the prospect of bringing order to Yangon’s chaotic bus service. The company imported 25 modern, air-conditioned buses in the K7.4 billion scheme. Passengers pay their fares by electronic card, which was supposed eventually to eliminate the need for conductors, while drivers were to be paid a fixed salary, meaning they would no longer have to jostle with rival bus companies for passengers in order to maximise their pay.

Passenger numbers were also limited to 50 per bus, avoiding the overcrowding seen on rival buses. Fares ranged from K50 to K300 depending on distance.

There were even hopes that the new line, running from North Dagon to North Okkalapa through Mayangone and Bahan to Sule Pagoda, would offer services at unsocial hours shunned as unprofitable by other bus companies.

But recriminations were being voiced this week, after the company revealed it had lost K20 million a month since services began in January, despite being popular with commuters.

“We got no support from the government even though this operation was supposed to be a joint venture with the Department of Transport. We wanted to change the face of public transportation,” said Forever Green deputy general manager U Hla Win.

He blamed the government’s policy for setting fares as a major factor in the line’s losses. While existing “special” bus lines can charge a set fare regardless of the length of the trip, the government refused to allow Forever Green to do the same, instead requiring it to charge based on the distance.
“Our buses are of international standard but we were not allowed to charge a fixed price, unlike other bus companies,” U Hla Win said.

The government has also failed to provide enough compressed natural gas, he said. The 25 initial buses could only install 320-litre tanks. The company wanted to import 50 more buses but was told it could not install CNG, making them uneconomic.

Mounting losses meant some conductors had to be let go.

The company has paid the dismissed staff K300,000 each – the equivalent of three months’ wages, in accordance with the policy of the Ministry of Labour.

U Tin Win Aung, director of the Road Transport Department, said it was working to resolve the issues.
“We have already reported it to the minister. We will find a solution to continue running the bus line,” he said. “We knew we would lose money, but we wanted to create a model for upgrading transportation in Yangon in the hope that other bus companies would follow suit.”

“We don’t have enough buses to run a proper schedule. We’re losing more than K10,000 per bus for each trip and we can’t make it back,” he said.

The dismissed staff were philosophical about losing their jobs.

“They gave me the three months’ wages. I’m not complaining, but I don’t understand how they selected the people they fired,” said former bus conductor Ma Myint Myint Khaing, 28, of South Dagon township.
Another former conductor, Ma Sandar Lwin, 41, of Mayangone township, said, “The bus line was a success, but the company was losing money. I feel sympathy for them. I hope they will succeed in the long term.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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