Yan­gon traf­fic co­nun­drum

A dive into the prob­lems of traf­fic con­ges­tion in Myan­mar’s busiest city

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Joanne Ma

Beep, beep…! The cars on the roads of Yan­gon howl at a high pitch to­gether, com­pos­ing a sym­phony of off-key noise. The traf­fic is loud enough to be an alarm clock at as early as 6 a.m. The sound of car horns in Myan­mar’s busiest city is ev­ery­where. Ac­cord­ing to a re­search pub­lished by Khin Khin Tun and Szpytko Janusz from the Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity at Kyaukse and the Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy at Krakow in Poland, the trans­porta­tion of Myan­mar in gen­eral faces a lot of prob­lems. In fact, only around two-thirds of the roads in Myan­mar are paved with gravel, the re­main­ing roads are hardly reach­able by sa­loon cars. They can only be ac­cessed by jeeps and ox carts. Yan­gon’s roads are gen­er­ally rea­son­ably paved which is good news to many who visit or re­side in the most im­por­tant com­mer­cial cen­tre of Myan­mar. How­ever, hav­ing more au­to­mo­biles on the roads also raises an­other prob­lem – traf­fic jams.

Per­sonal own­er­ship of cars is grow­ing. And buses com­pete for space. In ad­di­tion, taxis pro­vide an op­tion for lo­cals and tourists alike. The num­ber of tourists vis­it­ing Yan­gon rose al­most four times from 214,312 in 2007 to 1,080,144 in 2016, the Min­istry of Ho­tels and Tourism says. More peo­ple then be­come per­sonal driv­ers for tourists or sim­ply taxi driv­ers just to meet the mar­ket. Ac­cord­ing to Yan­gon’s min­is­ter for elec­tric­ity, in­dus­try and trans­porta­tion, there are more than 80,000 li­censed and un­li­censed taxis in the city. To a lot of for­eign visi­tors, it is very af­ford­able to travel by taxi. A five-kilo­me­tre drive costs about 2,400 kyat on Grab, a Sin­ga­pore-based taxi mo­bile app – which is equiv­a­lent to around $1.76. Nev­er­the­less, it may cost you more than 30 min­utes as well. “Traf­fic jams hap­pen ev­ery­where,” says Zin Phyo Aung, a driver at Moth­er­land Inn 2, a hos­tel in Yan­gon. He has been work­ing at the same hos­tel for four years since he was 18. Two years af­ter that, he started driv­ing for the clients, mainly for pick-ups and drop-offs at

Zin Phyo Aung notes a quirk of driv­ing in Myan­mar. As nor­mally around the globe, if driv­ers sit on the right, they drive on the left side of the road. How­ever, in Myan­mar ev­ery­thing hap­pens on the right side. Ru­mour has it that it is be­cause Gen­eral Ne Win had a vi­sion in 1970 that the coun­try should change their di­rec­tion by chang­ing what side of the road peo­ple travel. Apart from the ris­ing num­ber of tourists, the city it­self has also been ex­pand­ing in terms of pop­u­la­tion growth. The num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in Yan­gon has surged from 3,553,000 in 2000 to 7,355,075 in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Depart­ment. The in­crease is more than a dou­ble in less than one and a half decades. This in turn adds more bur­den to the nar­row roads of Yan­gon, caus­ing more con­ges­tion than ever. Also, since the 1990s, most of the res­i­dents in Yan­gon have been re­ly­ing on mass trans­porta­tion like rail and bus. Ac­cord­ing to Tun and Janusz, ap­prox­i­mately 2.5 mil­lion com­muters travel in Yan­gon by bus per day. When you walk in the streets of Yan­gon, not only will you find the roads over­crowded with ve­hi­cles; in­side a bus, some­times peo­ple are packed like sar­dines, too. Res­i­dents in Yan­gon opt for the bus be­cause it is con­ve­nient and eco­nom­i­cal.

Zin Phyo Aung used to en­joy driv­ing a lot, but not any­more. “Be­cause there’re traf­fic jams all the time! But this is my job, I do it for my fam­ily.” By work­ing as a driver at this hos­tel, he earns less than $150 a month. Some driv­ers are even able to en­hance their lan­guage skills by do­ing this job. “I love driv­ing tourists and show­ing them around!” says Tin Oo, a lo­cal taxi driver, with ar­tic­u­late English. “If you want to speak good English in Myan­mar, you need to go to pri­vate schools. I was not rich enough to go there, but I got to learn English from all th­ese tourists.” Ac­cord­ing to Zin Phyo Aung, a lot of wealthy peo­ple own cars in Yan­gon, but they don’t nec­es­sar­ily know how to drive - some don’t even have a driver’s li­cense.

The fact that those peo­ple are driv­ing like they are the only peo­ple on the roads also in­creases the con­ges­tion. “Even when they get caught by the traf­fic po­lice, they can just give the po­lice money and they won’t get into trou­ble,” says Zin Phyo Aung.

He re­calls an ex­pe­ri­ence in which he was driv­ing on the road and he was fol­low­ing all the traf­fic rules as usual. He stopped when he saw a red light. Yet, an­other car sim­ply cut through as if it hadn’t stopped just when the light started to change. It crashed into Zin Phyo Aung’s car. “An­other ex­am­ple of how peo­ple don’t know how to drive. They just cross when­ever they want.” It turns out that Yan­gon is not the only city that suf­fers from bad traf­fic and ab­surd driv­ing in Asia. There are videos on YouTube show­ing the traf­fic sit­u­a­tion that might have gone vi­ral. For ex­am­ple, a two-minute clip called “Rush Hour Traf­fic in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet­nam” posted by the user cam­bridge has re­ceived more than 2.3 mil­lion views. Even more wildly, “In­sane Chi­nese traf­fic jam” by Sploid has gained more than 7.2 mil­lion views.

Look­ing through those videos, there is seem­ingly an or­der amidst all the can­did cross­ings and crazy con­ges­tion. You may call it a cul­tural thing, but per­haps it is also an ac­tual issue to be tack­led as soon as pos­si­ble in all th­ese Asian cities.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.