The new Yangon Bus Service’s (YBS) second day went better than the first with 80 percent of buses properly labeled and on the roads, according to transport officials. But Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, who enjoyed a ceremonial ride on the new system, said there was still too much variation in how fares are collected.
Only 60 percent of the 3700 or so official YBS buses were available on the first day because of delays in applying numbered stickers to each bus displaying its route, according to bus owners and Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA) officials.
This led to overcrowding and long waiting times, but yesterday commuters appeared to fare much better. YRTA secretary U Maung Aung said that 80 percent of all buses were running and that things had been “much more convenient” for passengers.
Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, shortly before boarding the number 56 bus for a short jaunt downtown, said that another issue was in how fares are being collected.
The Yangon Region government has made it clear that drivers and conductors can no longer work on commission or take a share of the daily profits, which government officials said prompted them to prioritise cash over quality of service and passenger safety.
“Yesterday some buses practised a system where commuters place the fare in a box,” he said. Some commuters were unfamiliar with this approach, overcrowding also made using the fare box difficult, and so less money was collected, he added.
Other buses relied on the same conductors as they had previously employed, although conductors and drivers now work for set salaries. But U Maung Aung said he had heard reports of some buses collecting extra fares.
“If commuters are faced with this they can complain immediately to the YRTA,” he said.
U Phyo Min Thein said that within three months there would be a new system where commuters can pay by electronic swipe cards.
“That [kind of] system is not new, it’s international and we are late to use it,” the chief minister said. The government is in discussion with banks to design a card that can be used at mini-marts, restaurants and shopping malls as well as on buses, trains and a planned water taxi system, he added.
The chief minister also addressed concerns that the PPP firms operating YBS bus routes would not be profitable.
“We don’t believe this business will lose profits because there are over 2 million passengers,” he said.
BRT Lite – a two route operation that was the city’s first experiment with a PPP-run system using modern buses – has been subsumed into YBS, which in turn should boost its flagging profits, U Phyo Min Thein said.
But he added that all bus companies would have to earn the public’s trust by providing good service. For conductor-driver teams used to years of competing with rival buses on the same route, this may require something of a shift in perspective, he said.
“The bus owners and workers should think that it is not only their bus but also the company’s bus,” U Phyo Min Thein said. “We want a sharing system and bus owners must get an equal share of profits, regardless of whether they operate in crowded or quieter routes.”
Some commuters expecting to enjoy new flat fares of K200 for most routes inside the city – and a respite from arbitrary overcharging – found that the new system required using more than one route to get to work. But U Phyo Min Thein said that the 70 YBS routes were not set in stone and that they could be changed or more added at commuters’ requests.
The government is taking a particular look at people that have to take three separate routes to reach their destination, resulting in higher costs than under the old system.
“According to passengers we need to add more buses, and I want people to know that we will not be too strict with routes,” he said. “If necessary, we will change them immediately.”