Across the street from the night market, buses from Phnom Penh’s second and third new routes pull in to pick up passengers. It’s a normal scene at any bus station – except the buses are almost empty.
Line 2 driver Krey Soechea, 37, said he sometimes goes the entire route from the night market to Takhmao town and back picking up just six or seven passengers. “There are too many buses,” he said.
One month after its opening, Phnom Penh’s new Line 2 has few customers, according to both passengers and drivers. Line 3, which runs east-west from the night market to Choam Chao commune, is more popular, but not by much.
When Soechea first started working on Line 3, he saw significantly more customers, but said that “no [buses] were … more than half-full”.
However, City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said he was “very proud” of the two new bus lines’ performance.
“Don’t listen to [the drivers], listen to me,” he said.
According to City Hall, the original Line 1, which runs along Monivong Boulevard, averages 1,171 daily passengers, while Line 2 averages 938 and 1,625 for Line 3.
In late July, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly called on Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong to ensure that a planned 18 routes would be operational before the end of his tenure. City Hall had promised that up to 18 lines would be created by 2035.
Some employees are optimistic that numbers will pick up as people familiarise themselves with the routes.
Even though he sometimes only picks up 10 passengers along an entire route, Line 2 driver Neang Sophea, 30, said it “could improve in the long term”, while ticket taker Sot Sopheap, 21, said the bus had a comparatively larger number of passengers in the evening.
Nevertheless, at least one Phnom Penh resident is concerned the project will go south like a short-lived bus experiment in 2001.
It Samun, 30, who uses the bus every day, said he liked the “reasonable” cost, but feared for the future. “I’m afraid City Hall can’t afford the service, because I am used to it now,” he said.