During a recent Phnom Penh visit by the Mayor of Paris, two year-old plans for an electric-powered tram system for the capital were re-visited. Reported in the Phnom Penh Post, current feasibility studies by French company Systra are looking into developing a tram line that would run the length of Monivong Boulevard towards Chbar Ampov in Meanchey district.
Public transportation is undoubtedly sorely needed in Phnom Penh. At the same time, however, a new study by The Rockefeller Foundation entitled Catalyzing the New Mobility in Cities highlights the increasing need not only for public transportation per se, but for public transportation that is inclusive. The study notes how the needs of low-income households are often disregarded in decision-making on and investments into urban transportation, making poorer households less mobile, and/or making commutes for the poor more time-consuming, which in turn retracts from their income-generation opportunities.
So are trams an equitable way for Phnom Penh to develop its public transportation? Clearly one tram line through the city’s gentrifying core will not solve Phnom Penh’s worsening traffic nightmare. Two bus companies have also been given licenses to operate public bus lines in the capital starting in 2014, which could be the start of more extensive public transportation for the city. However, similar initiatives have failed in the past, with some noting Penhites are not interested in getting to and from public bus stops when they can simply hail a tuk tuk or a motodop at the street corner.
Here the Rockefeller Foundations study offers interesting examples from cities around the world that have embraced their informal transportation providers; perhaps a starting point for Phnom Penh too would be for motodops, tuk tuk drivers, and indeed cyclo drivers, to formalise their service provision, thus providing employment for many poorer city-dwellers and more reliable transportation options for the residents. The Municipality would also have to change its attitude and stop blaming tuk tuks for causing traffic jams and instead realise that the unsustainable growth in private vehicles on roads and curbsides is the leading cause of urban gridlock.