The clean, green lines of the city's trial buses will not been seen again unless funds are provided.
Phnom Penh residents may have only a couple more weeks to take advantage of the city's
new trial public bus service.
Both municipal government authorities and the company contracted to provide the service
say it is unlikely that the air-conditioned buses will continue operating after the
month-long trial phase ends on June 30 - at least for a while. Though the project
has been deemed "successful", its funding remains in question.
The trial bus system involved two main routes and was developed by the Phnom Penh
Municipality and Japan International Cooperation Agency, with buses provided by Ho
Wah Genting Transport Company and APEX Cambodia Travel Service Co.
"Financially, it's very hard," said Masato Koto, a public transport planner
for JICA. "Even in places like the United States and Japan, the public transportation
systems cannot survive without government funding. If we think about a balance between
cost and fares, then the fare would have to be more than 2,000 riels."
Bus fares were set at a flat 500 riels per trip during the first few days of operations,
but then were raised to 800 riels. The buses initially carried more than 5,000 people
a day, but daily ridership tapered off to about 2,500 to 3,000 passengers, Koto said,
adding that the initial bulge in users was mainly students intrigued by the novelty
of the service.
"If it's above 2,000 [passengers], then it's above our expectations," Koto
said, noting that the buses are operating at about 45 per cent of capacity. "Overall,
I think it has been successful - everybody is happy."
A total of 100,000 passengers will be served during the 30-day experiment, which
will be followed by three months of research and planning.
"After we have completed the research and have designed the plan for Phnom Penh,
then we will look for [funding] approval from the Japanese government," said
Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Chea Sophara.
It is unclear how long that process could take and when the buses would resume running,
Bus drivers said they have been pleased with the steady stream of passengers using
the new buses. However, they say navigating the cheerful anarchy of the city's crowded
streets was a considerable challenge.
"I have difficulty in my driving because there are a lot of motorbikes and cars,"
said 35 year-old driver Kluot Vanna. "I always concentrate on driving. Sometimes
I dare not to breathe."
Initial fears by organizers that mototaxi drivers might protest the buses due to
a prohibition on small vehicles on Monivong Boulevard between Sihanouk and Kampuchea
Krom Boulevards during the trial period have proven unfounded.
But Yin Sophat, a 50-year old father of six, complained that since the beginning
of the city bus trial, his daily revenue has dropped from 15,000 riels to 7,000 riels.
"Our revenues are getting smaller and smaller. The people get the city bus instead
of our motorbike taxi because the fare is cheaper than us," said Sophat, a native
of Kampot province. "I would like to ask the government to stop the city bus
Restaurants along Monivong have also complained about the bus routes, saying that
their patrons arrive by car and that the bus stops placed outside of their businesses
detract from their ambiance, Koto said.
But most people - from daily passengers to the city's governor - seem to agree that
the buses are a boon to the city's transportation network.
"The buses are very helpful to make the city beautiful, protect the environment,
save lives from traffic accidents and help poor people not to spend too much money
on transportation," Sophara said of the trial's benefits.