Wanted: Female bus drivers in Yangon for a safer ride


YANGON — Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon is the only female driver for Yangon Bus Service (YBS) – and she has provided a welcome change for passengers.

Having long put up with rude, vulgar and reckless male drivers they called for more women behind the wheel.

The authorities agreed and the YBS’s governing body, the Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA), began a recruitment drive for women bus drivers in May, urging them to enrol in a three-week driver training course. With the second batch of graduates emerging soon, the third course is now open for enrolment. Training graduates will receive a monthly salary of K300,000 (S$300) plus K150,000 worth of entitlements. Few bus companies offer a stable monthly wage, with many paying drivers a daily wage of only K15,000 to K20,000 with small bonuses for completed routes.

But so far only one woman has applied for the latest round of training, despite the financial incentives.

Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon herself only became a bus driver after a struggle against gender stereotypes in Myanmar. The 29-year-old former bus conductor has been driving service 21 since March. It runs between Danyinkone in Insein township to Mawtin in Lanmadaw township. .

She used to work in a garment factory before becoming a bus conductor in 2014 when Mr Ko Tayoke Lay, part owner of the No 48 and No 124 lines, decided to employ around 25 female conductors.

Yangon bus services have traditionally been dominated by male drivers and conductors. Women were employed as conductors on the No 17 line only for a short period in the 1970s.

“I was most stressed when I worked at the garment factory. [When] I was offered a new role as a bus conductor by the owner of the Number 48 line. I thought it was impossible for a woman to take this role, but I wanted to try,” she said.

However fatigue and irregular income saw the female conductors on lines No 48 and No 124 gradually disappear until only Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon was left.

Foreseeing that conductors’ jobs would one day be eliminated, Mr Ko Tayoke Lay urged Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon to take up driving.

She had already been taking notes. She started learning to drive by watching the other drivers while working as a conductor. Senior drivers would teach her to drive when they were waiting to refuel.

On weekends, bus owners would also provide her with a vehicle to practise with at the Taw Win bus compound. Later, she asked for a driving instructor to train her at an industrial zone in Hlawgar, north of Yangon.

COMPETING WITH MEN

But before she could even put what she had learned into practice, male colleagues questioned her ability.

“After a lot of training, I was asked to accompany a school bus driver six months before I was to drive a YBS bus. The driver did not even allow me to sit in the driver’s seat as he thought that women lacked courage and were naturally reluctant to make quick decisions,” Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon recounted.

“He told me that I would never be a bus driver.”

She told Mr Ko Tayoke Lay that she would resign if he did not permit her to drive the school bus. He relented.

On her first day behind the wheel, Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon was involved in a minor accident with a car. “It was winter and a mist obscured the road. On top of all that, the roads were bad,” she said. But nothing serious came of it and she became ever more determined.

After two weeks of driving the school bus, she took on the challenge of driving a YBS bus along the No 21 line.
CHALLENGES

One huge challenge Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon faces as a driver involves dodging potholes behind the wheel of a 15-tonne vehicle filled with passengers. Other challenges were just cultural issues that she could easily handle, whether as a conductor or a driver. “Unlike women, men drink and chew betel nut on the buses; there were even complaints about (men) harassing women passengers,” Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon said.

“Women are polite and kind. They do not annoy passengers.,” she said.

As a female bus driver, she has attracted curious looks and even fans.

“Since I began driving the YBS bus, passers-by and other drivers stare at me whenever my bus passes them. They look interested and surprised,” she said.

“Over the past six months, I have gained many loyal customers. They choose my bus even if there are two or more No 21 buses at the stop. They say they want the bus with the woman driver.”

During a week-long break recently, passengers even asked after Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon, worrying that she had quit her job.

“They say women are patient, they do not fight for passengers and a bus with a woman driver is safer,” she said.

SAFETY FIRST

Bus drivers in Yangon are notorious for not following road rules, driving at breakneck speeds and fighting for passengers. On July 7, a combination of all three resulted in tragedy which killed 10 passengers and injured 40 people in north Yangon.

After seeing the success of Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon, Mr Ko Tayoke Lay plans to start a women’s-only bus driver training course of his own.

“Men drive with greed and anger. They do not respect customers’ rights and they are undisciplined. I want to replace the men with women drivers,” he said.

Still, Ms Ma Myat Yi Mon concedes her male colleagues might have one advantage: men can answer nature’s call just about anywhere.“I dare not drink too much water. There are no toilets anywhere.” MYANMAR TIMES

Source: Today Online

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