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Locals utilise the public bus trial on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh
Locals utilise the public bus trial on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh yesterday. Charlotte Pert

Bus trial shifts into first gear

After more than 10 years, the buses are back.

Despite a failed attempt in 2001, and scepticism that mass transit can compete with Phnom Penh’s ever-present motos and tuk-tuks, Municipal Hall and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) yesterday began the trial of a public bus line running up and down the length of Monivong Boulevard for 1,500 riel ($0.37).

According to City Hall, the Monivong test route, which will be operational through March 4, is the first of five proposed lines.

A man collects a bus ticket from an attendant aboard a public bus on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh
A man collects a bus ticket from an attendant aboard a public bus on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh yesterday. Charlotte Pert

Pa Socheatvong, Phnom Penh municipal governor, said the test would involve 10 buses running every day from 5:30am until 8:30pm between the Old Stadium roundabout at the western end of the Japanese Friendship Bridge and the southern end of Monivong at the Chbar Ampov overpass.

“This public transit is a good way to transport passengers, and it also helps to reduce traffic accident rates,” Socheatvong said.

According to Socheatvong, the number of cars and motorbikes in Phnom Penh has risen dramatically, leading to congestion and numerous costly – and at times fatal – accidents. In the face of such a “catastrophe”, he added, the state was willing to eat some of the cost of the bus lines.

“The state loses, but the people will gain,” he said.

JICA team leader Masato Koto did not disclose how much the organisation would spend on the bus project, but said that the team would interview passengers and confer with City Hall on whether the ticket price would need to be adjusted.

Several locals took to the new line yesterday, tapping away on tablets and chatting with friends as they rode uptown.

To others, however, the buses were more of a curiosity than a means of conveyance.

As one uptown bus pulled into a stop on the northern end of its route yesterday, a handful of bystanders crowded the door and peered in, but none boarded.

Engineer Uch Sarat, 23, tried out the new service, and said he was happy to see Cambodia adopt public buses like other countries.

“I will take the public bus whenever I go somewhere, since it will reduce congestion and gasoline consumption,” he said.

For passenger and student Pov Pisey, 21, the reasons for taking the bus had more to do with socialising than civic good.

“I have my moto already, but I want to ride the bus, because I want to [ride] with my friends.

“I think it’s cheaper also, because it’s only 1,500 riel,” she said, adding that the bus was “more comfortable” than a tuk-tuk.

The added safety of the bus was also a major draw, Pisey continued.

“I never had a moto accident, but I worry because it’s easier to have a moto accident than a car [accident],” she said.

Heng Sam Orn, secretary general of the taxi, tuk-tuk and motodop union Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association (IDEA), said yesterday that he would “welcome” the new bus line, characterising it as part of Phnom Penh’s natural evolution.

“If you compare it to last time, we had only cyclos and bicycles, and when motodops came, those cyclos upgraded themselves to be motodops to do business,” Sam Orn said. “Then those motos upgraded to tuk-tuks. So if there is a real public bus in the future, they will probably upgrade to freelance taxis.”

Indeed, motodop Chuon Sophat, 34, remained unconcerned yesterday about losing passengers to his new competition.

“It is the passenger’s choice – they can take a moto or the public bus; it is their right.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA

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