Residents of Koh Oknhatei and Koh Dach communes plan to demonstrate Monday in Phnom Penh to protest the raise in ferry ticket prices to cross the Mekong River.
The price for one person and a motorcycle for the ferry between their island and Prek Leap on the outskirts of Phnom Penh doubled on Jan 1 from 500 to 1,000 riel.
At that rate, many people who work in Phnom Penh cannot feed their families, said Meoung Rin Deth, a police officer with the Ministry of Interior.
“On average, I make 7,000 riel per day,” said Koe Sareth, who works in Phnom Penh as a motortaxi driver.
“The boat costs 2,000 riel, petroleum 2,000 riel. So I make 3,000 riel per day—I don’t think that I’ll be able to pay” for ferry tickets, he said.
The increase was a decision of the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Kandal province authorities, said ferry co-owner Sam Preoung.
It is meant to fund road construction in Kandal province, Tep Poudara, chief of cabinet for the Kandal province governor, said.
About 6,000 families live in Koh Oknhatei commune alone. Hundreds of students, monks, teachers and police officers take the ferry every day to Prek Leap to study or work in Phnom Penh, Meoung Rin Deth said.
In the past, commune residents paid 500 riel per motorcycle plus person. Visitors paid 1,000 riel per moto and person, and students and monks traveled for free.
The rate for bicycles now is 200 riel plus 500 riel for the rider, and 6,000 to 10,000 riel for vehicles, Sam Preoung said.
On workdays, civil servants including teachers and military officers, students and monks cross for free, only paying the motorcycle fee of 500 riel if they have one, he said.
But demonstration organizers say this is not the case. Eou Sophon, 33, a long-time resident of the island, said the other ferry co-owner, known as Mr Long, has hired armed police officers to threaten passengers who refuse to pay the new price, he said.
Koe Sareth said Mr Long tried to confiscate his motorcycle when he refused to pay the new rate. In the end, Koe Sareth did pay.
Rates may go even higher during Khmer New Year, said Sam Preoung, adding that he may charge 2,000 riel for a moto and a rider during the holiday.