Phnom Penh City Hall on Thursday issued a statement asking bus companies to keep ticket prices stable over the Khmer New Year period, when millions of Cambodians travel to visit relatives in the provinces.
“Some [bus] companies…take this opportunity to increase the prices, which causes difficulty for people,” who struggle to pay double the price or more, City Hall said in the statement.
The high prices for bus tickets over the holiday period encourages people to pack into minivans so overloaded that people sometimes travel on the roof, which is a major safety concern and leads to accidents.
“The municipality strongly hopes that company and taxi owners…will implement this” request, the announcement adds.
While City Hall regularly issues such announcements ahead of the New Year and other public holidays, the requests are seldom followed by bus companies as they are not legally binding, said Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.
“Such an announcement…is not effective because there isn’t any mechanism to punish [the companies] if they do not follow it,” Mr. Thun said, adding that it was poor people such as garment workers traveling back to the rural areas who were most affected by the price gouging.
San Vichet, manager of Rith Mony Bus Co., one of the largest bus companies in Cambodia, said that he planned to follow the municipality’s instructions.
“We didn’t receive [the announcement] yet, but last year when we got it, we followed it,” Mr. Vichet said.
Chhem Chomnan, company representative for Sorya Transportation, said that if there were a lot of customers, prices for bus tickets would inevitably go up. “If there is a lot of demand, then we will have to rent buses from other [companies], and the price will be up,” he said. “It’s a free market,” Mr. Chomnan added.
Though the New Year holiday does not start until April 14, garment workers on Friday said that some tickets were already more expensive, and that they usually see prices double.
“It always increases during the holiday…usually double. And the taxis are so full we squeeze in like pigs. We don’t have a choice, because our salaries are so little,” said 32-year-old Yung Leap, who works at a factory in Meanchey district, but plans to go home to Prey Veng province over Khmer New Year.