Official says holiday travellers could face 5-hour delays at Neak Leung ferry.
Passengers queue for the Neak Leung ferry before P'Chum Ben last year.
DRIVERS looking to head southwest along Route 1 over Khmer New Year face a long wait at the Neak Leung ferry crossing after an official confirmed the number of ferries would stay the same despite an expected rise in passenger numbers.
Khmer New Year falls April 14-16. Ferry director Seng Chhuon said on a normal day, the three ferries carry 700 people.
"But during Khmer New Year, between 50,000 and 60,000 passengers arrive to cross the ferry each day," he said. "However, the number of ferries will remain at three because I don't know how we can get any more to help."
He predicted delays of five hours. "We know it's difficult to wait that long, but we don't have a choice," Seng Chhuon said. "We try to run the ferries from 3am until 2am the next day - on normal days we run from 5:30am to 11pm."
The sliver of good news is that ferry prices won't increase. Individuals pay 100 riels (about two US cents), motorbikes pay 500 riels and cars pay 5,800 riel.
"However, we know that taxi drivers take a chance and increase the amount they charge their passengers, blaming it on us," he said.
Since 2002, Prime Minister Hun Sen has urged Japan to consider paying the estimated US$80 million cost of building a second bridge across the Mekong. The bridge at Neak Leung would form part of ASEAN's regional highway.
Seng Chhuon said the new bridge would resolve delays. He said construction would begin either next year or in 2011, with the finished structure spanning 1,200 metres.
Koun Sokuon, a worker in Phnom Penh who comes from Prey Veng province, said during festival periods he has to leave the capital as early as 3am to avoid the ferry queues. "I wish the authorities would start the bridge construction because that would allow us to cross the river at any time."
Another city worker, Nuon Daravy from Svay Rieng, said a further problem of travelling over Khmer New Year was the exorbitant cost.
Taxi-driver Ros Bona agreed. The fare on his service to Svay Rieng triples to 60,000 riel. "Other people increase their prices - such as the taxi station operators. And if we want to cross the river more quickly, we have to pay an extra 20,000 riels for a VIP pass."