Thursday, June 29, 2017
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Yangon to develop river transport express system

The Yangon Region government is planning to build a river express system for passengers – part of fundamental transport reforms that government officials hope will bring a new wave of industrial goods and commuters onto the country’s waterways.

A passenger boat crosses Yangon River to Dala township. Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesA passenger boat crosses Yangon River to Dala township. Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

Myanmar is unique in Southeast Asia in boasting waterways – primarily the Ayeyarwady and Chindwin rivers – that connect its main cities, according to the Asian Development Bank. But a lack of infrastructure and investment has left this transport resource sorely underutilised.

The Yangon Region government is hoping to make better use of the city’s waterways to help reduce transportation costs and traffic jams, chief minister U Phyo Min Thein said on July 22.

“The government is going to upgrade water transportation for commuters and for transporting goods,” he said.

U Maung Aung from the Yangon Region government’s Public Transport Authority Group said authorities would issue a tender for companies to build and operate an express river transport system for commuters.

The express system will include jetties at destinations including Hlaing Tharyar, Shwe Pyi Thar and Kyeemyindaing townships, he told The Myanmar Times.

The regional government will decide on where to locate the jetties and the winning company or companies will have to build them, he said, adding that he hoped to see the express system running in October.

State-owned Inland Water Transport – which operates under the Ministry of Transport and Communications – will be in charge of issuing a licence to operate the express system, and making sure safety regulations are met, he added.

Reforming Inland Water Transport is also a key part of a wider effort to update the country’s waterway system. The state-owned enterprise (SOE) has long held a monopoly on waterway transport, which in earlier years was an import source of movement for passengers and freight.

But a surge in car and truck ownership on the back of looser import restrictions has eaten into Inland Water Tranport’s market share, an ADB report published last week said. The SOE saw freight turnover drop 65 percent between 2011 and 2015, and passenger numbers fell 83pc, the report said.

A lack of fresh investment meanwhile has left the enterprise with outdated ships, jetties and machinery. Inland Water Transport is losing about K400 million a month, according to a separate report sent to the new government.

Inland Water Transport is one of several state-owned enterprises that the new government will privitise or corporatise, deputy minister U Maung Maung Win told The Myanmar Times in May.

U Zaw Win, managing director of Inland Water Transport, told The Myanmar Times on July 22 that privitisation was the ultimate aim, but that this would take some two or three years.

The ADB transport report said the SOE can “rebound from its very degraded situation”, but that this will require public financial support for at least two more years.

The Ministry of Planning and Finance will need to restructure Inland Water Transport’s financial obligations, and the Ministry of Transport and Communications will need to lay-off or redeploy the firm’s staff, the report added.

Myanmar’s Road and Inland Water Transport Law, which was designed for a command economy and limits private competition in transport services, should be revised, the ADB said.

U Zaw Win is well aware of the shortfalls in the system. The ships are old, and unable to run 24 hours a day, while machinery and jetties need upgrading, he said.

“Our weak point is that we carry goods and passengers together [on the same ship],” he said, adding that Inland Water Transport plans to separate the two in the future.

Another new policy will see the SOE run ferries to carry shipping containers from jetty to jetty, he said.

This policy is being carried out as part of a Japan International Cooperation Agency project in cooperation with a private marine services company, and there have been successful tests of shipping containers between Yangon and Mandalay, he added.

If the waterways can take more container transport this could help alleviate traffic in downtown Yangon, where heavy trucks ship containers in and out of the city throughout the day, U Zaw Win said.

He added that the ADB also supports the project, and hopes the development bank would invest.

Winfried Wicklein, the ADB’s country director for Myanmar, said the bank had not decided whether it would provide lending assistance for river transport. This will be decided through discussion with the government on ADB’s proposed country partnership strategy for 2017-2021, he said.


Additional reporting by Steve Gilmore