Thousands of buses sit idle as drivers flee traffic jams

Life on the buses is getting too hard, bus owners are warning. Drivers are leaving in droves, exhausted by the increasing congestion and aggression they experience, losing money because of reduced opportunities to pick up passengers, and aware of greener pastures elsewhere. All of this means more misery for the commuting public.

Normally, drivers would run their route five or six times a day, bringing in enough fares to support themselves. But constant heavy traffic has cut in half the number of circuits they can run a day, even as their working hours have lengthened.

Because drivers and conductors make money based on how much they bring in from fares – rather than from a salary – fewer trips mean less income.

“Today, one of my drivers didn’t come in to work because he worked so late last night. I couldn’t find a replacement driver until 10am for a 4am departure. We lost a lot of money,” said U Myo Win, the owner of buses on route 31.

“Sometimes we can only run three times a day, half of what we did before. Drivers aren’t earning enough.”
The situation has been aggravated by a liberalisation of car import rules that has seen hundreds of thousands of private vehicles enter the country since late 2011. Accidents and frustration have markedly increased.

The Yangon Region Supervisory Committee for Motor Vehicles, known by its Myanmar acronym Ma Hta Tha, as well as Yangon City Development Committee and the traffic police have all tried to relieve the situation, including by marking out bus lanes with concrete dividers and cracking down on poor driving. Now erring drivers can face the loss of their licence for up to six months for some infractions.

But some bus drivers have left Yangon altogether, and others have quit to become taxi drivers.

Ko Thaw Zin Min told The Myanmar Times he quit his job as a bus driver and began driving a taxi a month ago. He said the long hours and loss of income due to traffic jams and mechanical failures drove him to switch careers.

“The traffic jams are always getting worse and we can’t due as many routes as before. As a result I didn’t make as much money as I hoped,” he said. “Now I can make about K400,000 profit a month.”

U Myo Win said some bus owners faced the loss of their fleet because they could not pay interest on the loans they had taken out to buy buses. “Some buses are parked at home because of the driver shortage,” he said.

The situation has deterred new owners from investing in public transport.

Ko Ta Yote Lay, one of the owners on the No 48 line, said the driver shortage meant about half of Yangon’s 6000 registered buses were not in use.

“Buses can’t run as often as we want,” he said. “The owners are cutting back on maintenance and support, and there isn’t even enough CNG.

“A new owner would have to wait three to six months to get the permits, and the existing owners just want to sell out.”

Some owners are suggesting that road transport authorities should be prepared to allow tested drivers to go on the buses even if they don’t hold a so-called nga licence, which enables them to drive heavy vehicles.

“It’s not right that more than 2000 buses should be off the road because of driver shortages,” said U Hla Aung, the head of Ma Hta Tha.

As The Myanmar Times reported earlier this month, nga licence-holders were never given a driving test, and qualified to drive a bus simply because they held another licence type for at least five years.
The Road Transport Administration Department has said it plans to retest all nga licence-holders to ensure they are up to the task.

Source: Myanmar Times

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