The city bus service could help change the commuting habits of Phnom Penh residents, writes Chea Vannak.
City buses seem to be the Phnom Penh Municipal Council’s answer to beating the city’s chronic traffic congestion.
For a mere 1,500 riel (about $0.35) one could travel in air-conditioned comfort for about 10 kilometres from Phnom Penh’s nightmarket area to neighbouring Takhmao city in Kandal province, with stops along the way at Choam Chao roundabout and near Prek Pnove Bridge – north of Phnom Penh.
And for students, monks and the elderly it’s a free ride.
Since 2014, City Hall has been using 50 buses to run three lines in Phnom Penh.
City Hall piloted the public bus service in 2001 but it was soon stopped due to a lack of funding. In 2014, however, the project was reactivated with funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Sim Seng is a regular user of the city bus service, which she said guarantees her safety in Phnom Penh’s notorious traffic.
“It might take me longer to get to my destination, compared to a tuk-tuk or a motorcycle taxi, but I feel safe. For that reason I prefer using the city buses,” said Ms Seng.
Last week the Phnom Penh Municipal Council received a donation of 100 buses from China to help expand bus routes in the capital. Five new bus routes are planned in a bid to reduce traffic congestion in the city.
The new routes would run from Central Market to Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone, from Preah Monivong Bridge to Prek Pnove Bridge, from Prek Leab carpark to Century Plaza market, from Preah Monivong Bridge to Wat Sleng and from the French Embassy to Preah Monivong Bridge.
“The bus journey from Phnom Penh’s night market to Takhmao city in Kandal takes about an hour in normal traffic. However, during peak hours, it can take over two hours,” said a city bus ticket seller who did not want to be named.
“It’s normally students and people who don’t work in offices that use the bus service,” she said.
“On the return journey from Takhmao to the night market area, we sometimes have only about 10 passengers.
“I guess it’s the slow bus journey in traffic jams that puts people off. The traffic congestion always get s worse during rush hour in evening.”
Taking the city bus to work is not an option for Oam Phearom, a medical worker at a private clinic in Phnom Penh, who lives in Takhmao city.
“If I use the bus every morning, I’m certain I’ll get to work late,” said Mr Phearom.
“I’d rather brave the traffic congestion on my motorcycle. Even if I inch my way forward, it will be much faster than the city bus,” he added.
The biggest challenge City Hall faces is in educating consumers about the bus service to overcome entrenched commuting habits.
“The number or people using the bus service is low at the moment but I believe it will soon increase once they know of the expanded routes,” said Met Measpheakdey, the Phnom Penh Municipal Council’s spokesman.
“We will soon launch a public information campaign to encourage people to use the city bus service to beat the traffic congestion,” he added.
Ear Chariya, director of the Institute for Road Safety, shared the same sentiments as Mr Measpheakdey.
“Investment in a public transportation service is essential but it takes time for people to get used to it, when they have always been taking tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis to commute around,” said Mr Chariya.
“Adding five new bus routes will encourage people to use the bus service because it will cover a larger area.”
Mr Measpheakdey said City Hall is planning another two more routes, bringing the total to 10.
“Another 140 city buses will be provided by Japan soon,” he revealed.