Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng has claimed City Hall loses about $150,000 every month covering the costs of staff and other expenses to support public bus services.
City Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey said that although the state lost money, there were two important advantages to continue operating the service.
“The state contributes to reduce the cost for people travelling in Phnom Penh. They only spend 1,500 riel per person, which is cheaper than all private transport services,” he said.
“And the use of buses is a way to reduce the traffic congestion people in the city face.”
He added that people have increasingly showed their support for the service since its launch, with about 5,000 passengers per day at the start, to between 10,000 and 20,000 now.
The number of passengers shows that municipal authorities have helped reduce the use of private vehicles, including cars, motorbikes and tuk tuks, by 10,000 to 20,000 units per day, he said.
City Hall now has about 150 buses for public transport services along nine major roads.
Mr Meas Pheakdey said that City Hall would find a way to support the service despite the losses.
Some Phnom Penh residents have become regular users of public transportation.
Chey Nareth, a 48-year-old living in Por Senchey district’s Ka Kab 1 commune, said her family has been on board from the beginning, since her three children study at a high school that is located right on the bus line.
“As a parent, I’m busy with work and the children have different classes at different times so I don’t have time to take everyone by motorbike,” she said.
“If someone is running late, I’ll take them, but the others will take the bus. In the evening, they take the bus home together.”
Ms Nareth added that she also used the service because it was significantly cheaper than taking a motodop or a tuk tuk.
Ear Chariya, director of the Institute for Road Safety, said the city lost money on the public transport service, but reduced traffic congestion and costs of citizens.
He said the state lost $150,000 a month on buses, but lost about $6 million per year from traffic congestion, which was about $500,000 a month.
“We have seen that investing in public transport in any country is always a loss in the beginning. There may not be any profit in the first five years even though many people support it. It’s a long-term investment,” he said.
He added there were a few factors that made public support less widespread. The bus service does not cover all destinations within the city and dissemination of information by City Hall to citizens has been weak.
“Another difficulty is that there is no space for pedestrians to walk on the road from their home to the bus stop, or the bus stop to the market, or the next destination,” he said.
“It’s still difficult because the sidewalk is used by people to make their business or it’s used as a parking lot.”
Mr Meas Pheakdey said the bus service would be expanded in mid-2018, with an increase in the number of routes and 80 more buses coming online.