Prime Minister Hun Sen announced yesterday that the government will consider providing 200 free buses during Khmer New Year next year, should bus companies continue to increase fares during the holiday period.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, the premier said it was an initiative by the government to facilitate the needs of lower-income travellers. He said the government would more than double the amount of free buses next year, in a bid to pressure bus companies to lower prices. This year, the government is providing 60 buses from April 12 to 18.
“If bus companies insist on increasing the price this year then next year we will provide 200 free buses. We will break them if they do not listen to us,” said Mr Hun Sen.
He added the plan of the government was to accommodate travellers with a limited budget while ordering the cooperation of provincial authorities.
“At least those free buses will take thousands of people home and the provincial authorities will provide parking locations for those buses until the people are ready to resume their daily lives after the New Year,” Mr Hun Sen said.
Sixty buses will take holiday travellers through five routes including National Road 1 from Phnom Penh to Kandal, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces; and National Road 3 from Phnom Penh to Kandal, Kampong Speu, Takeo and Kampot provinces.
The other routes include National Road 4 from Phnom Penh to Kandal, Kampong Speu, Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces; National Road 5 from Phnom Penh to Kandal, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces; and National Road 6 from Phnom Penh to Kandal, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces.
Vy Samnang, Kampong Speu provincial governor, said that people were welcomed by the government to take the free buses back to their hometowns over the New Year.
“It’s for the people and it shows that the government really does care about their problems,” he said.
San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, applauded the government initiative and said the free service should be made permanent every year for the entire country.
Private companies have also donated buses in order to support the government initiative. The Ganzberg Brewery provided more than 100 buses and will be departing to most of the provinces across the country.
However, Sam Mady, a manager at Cana Vehicle Rental Service, said her company would not increase ticket prices this year or the next but the company was worried that the services provided by the government could ultimately hurt business.
“People these days just want free services without thinking about the impact of their choices. When people use services provided by the state then we lose customers,” she said.
Ms Mady did not comment on how much her company was losing because of the free rides provided by the government this year.
Many are expected to utilize the free bus service as many travelling Cambodians are making the journey back to their hometowns during Khmer New Year.
Srey Moch, 24, a worker from Phnom Penh said she and her family would go back to her hometown in Kampong Cham by using the free bus this year.
“Even though there are a lot of people that will use the service, I will try it because it’s free. It will be a lot of help for me,” she said.