The government plans to provide limited free bus services on a first-come, first-served basis along National Roads 1 and 5 during the week of Khmer New Year, though how such a plan will be implemented remains unclear.
Sixty buses are set to run from April 12 to April 18 and will leave Phnom Penh at 5:30am each morning after their seats are filled, according to Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey.
The city’s plan was in direct response to an announcement of a free bus service from Prime Minister Hun Sen on his Facebook page on Sunday, so Measpheakdey said City Hall would be using the next week to finalise their preparations.
When asked if there would be a ticketing system to manage the crowds or determine who would get a seat on the free buses, the spokesman said it would be determined based on who sat down on the bus first.
“We wouldn’t issue any ticket and we have no requirements, it is first-come, first-served and free of charge,” Measpheakdey said. “The bus will leave when the seats are full, and further information about stops and destinations will be announced later.”
About 60 of the city’s public buses, many of which were donated by China last year, will be used to ferry passengers from three loading points in the city.
Buses currently operating in the city have either 25, 35 or 50 seats, likely meaning the maximum number of passengers that could ride in a single day would be about 3,000, or about 0.15 percent of Phnom Penh’s population. Measpheakdey declined to provide specifics about the size of the buses that would be used.
Private taxi drivers, who often charge a premium during holidays when demand for taxi services is higher, had mixed reactions to the announcement yesterday.
Noun Chhunry, a van driver who hauls passengers from Phnom Penh to Pursat province along National Road 5, was unhappy with the announcement, saying that the premier’s political calculation would cost him money.
“I will have fewer clients and make a lower profit, and holidays are my big earning days,” he said. “I know this is the political interest. It is true [Hun Sen] will earn favour for the election.”
But Bona Seng, a driver who also works along National Road 5 from Phnom Penh to Battambang, said he wasn’t concerned about the potential impact of the decision.
“I’m glad to hear this from the prime minister; it will help those who don’t make much money,” he said.
“A million passengers are going to leave for Khmer New Year, more or less. I am sure I will get clients on that day.”
Measpheakdey acknowledged that the move would likely hurt some drivers, but said that the government providing a free service in direct competition with local businesspeople was part of the free market.
“We should be concerned with everyone’s interests,” he said. “For sure, it would hurt some local business drivers, but it is the free market, no matter if it is from the government or not.”
The three pickup destinations are planned at the intersection of National Road 4 and Kob Srov Road; the new Freedom Park in Russey Keo district; and near the Mercedes outlet on Hun Sen Boulevard, according to the spokesman.