By Chea Vannak, Khmer Times, Monday, 13 October 2014
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Gradually the word is getting out to capital commuters: you can travel safely, seated in air conditioned comfort of a city bus for the fraction of the cost of a dusty ride on the back of a moto.
“Day by day the city bus service is becoming more popular with people,” said Moth Nary, 24, a conductor on the 02 city bus, which runs between the Night Market and Takhmao town roundabout.
Conversion is slow in a city where over 1 million people take a moto or tuktuk ride every day.
“We receive an average of 15 passengers for a single trip, in contrast to the early days when we would take between five and eight,” the ticket taker said of the bus service which started last month.
Operating from early morning until late in the evening, the city buses ply three routes.
The bus service was started to dent the growth of traffic congestion in the city. But, despite rising gasoline costs, commuters have been slow to switch to mass transit.
People are reluctant to change ingrained habits.
A bus ticket costs 1,500 Riel (US$0.35) fraction of the shortest moto ride. Each bus line stretches about 12 kilometers.
The No. 01 city bus runs between the Night Market at riverside and Kilometer No. 9, on National Highway 5. The No. 03 line runs between the Night Market and Chom Chav, west of the airport.
With traffic congestion rampant in the capital, officials hope that the city bus project will eventually reduce traffic jams caused by an estimated 1.5 million motorbikes and 300,000 cars around the city.
Big challenges lie in educating consumers about the bus service and overcoming entrenched commuting habits.
Between explaining to passengers how to pay their fares at the bus’ entry door, Nary said that most people who use the bus are residents who live along the roads, making it easy for them to take up the service.
“They are happy to take the bus and say it can reduce the cost of transportation,” she said.
But, people who do not live near a bus stop resist walking in a city where sidewalks are obstacle courses and streets are dangerous for pedestrians.
“People don’t like to walk much – they choose motos or cars because they think that they help them save time”, Nary added.
Buses arrive at the stops about every 15 to 20 minutes, with 15 buses being allocated to each line, in order to give passengers regular and reliable service.
Passengers over 70 years of age, students with ID cards, and children less than one meter in height ride free.
The next line would to be launched is to go from the city center’s Night Market to the Red-land roundabout at the conjunction of national road number #2 and Road #217, otherwise known as Chamkar Doung Road.
But not everyone is happy with the new buses.
“The city bus is taking my income,” said 56-year-old moto driver, Sam Ol, who waits for passengers near Takhmao roundabout.
But it looks like the migration from cars and motos to buses will take years.
City buses lines were established in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam over a decade ago. Bankgkok has a metro system.
Metro systems are to open in Hanoi in 2015 and in Ho Chi Minh in 2018.
Phnom Penh may introduce a tram system along Monivong Boulevard by 2020.
Until then, a lot rides on public acceptance of city buses.