Phnom Penh is planning its first mass transit system, seeking companies interested in operating a bus network, according to governor Kep Chuktema.
“Phnom Penh municipality is a big city in which traffic order is becoming complicated,” Mr Chuktema said. “The traffic will definitely become worse…if ignored.”
“The increase in motorbikes and cars will…cause severe traffic jams,” he said. “The main purpose of investing in city buses is to reduce or cease traffic jams.”
In a May 24 announcement posted to its website, City Hall invited companies to prepare investment plans for a bus system “with an aim to improve the image, security and public order” of Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh considered a bus system in 2001, and in 2008 approved a study for an elevated train network similar to the one introduced in Bangkok in 1999.
Mr Chuktema said that, so far, a Chinese company and a Malaysian company had submitted proposals, but he declined to identify them.
He said that the buses would initially run along seven routes from the outskirts of the city, including National Roads 2, 3, 4 and 5 and that the bus system should be up and running by 2013. He added that traveling by public transport would be economical because fares would be cheap and travelers would not have to pay for parking.
One major problem the project faces, according to Mr Chuktema, is a lack of space for the construction of bus parking lots. “We might allow the city buses to park along a street,” he said.
Bunseang Chea, a member of the Cambodian Society of Architects, said he welcomed any efforts to introduce buses to Phnom Penh.
“I do encourage public transport, but the government has to inform users in the city to change [their] attitude,” Mr Chea said, referring to peoples’ reliance on motorbikes and other forms of transport.
Mr Chea said public transport would be particularly useful for people living several kilometers outside central Phnom Penh, “people like housewives who have to go far to market.”
Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, an organization that advocates for the rights of tuk-tuk and motorcycle taxi drivers, said that while he was not opposed to the development of a bus system, the project could hurt motorcycle taxi and tuk-tuk drivers.
“We are afraid we will be prevented from doing business on the streets designed for city buses to run on,” Mr Pao said, citing the example of the 2009 ban on tuk-tuks from Norodom Boulevard, which he claimed was to accommodate new metered taxi services.
Mr Pao said he was concerned that if motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks did not receive equal treatment when the buses start running, many people would lose their jobs. “Equal treatment means we want City Hall to allow us to run businesses on the streets…in the same lanes as the buses,” he said.
Socheata Sann, road safety program manager at Handicap International Belgium, said she believed for the most part that public transport would benefit Phnom Penh because it would “contribute to the reduction of fatalities caused by tuk-tuks, private cars and motos.”
However, Ms Sann noted it was imperative that the highest safety standards be applied, because bus accidents can result in high numbers of deaths and injuries. She said it was important that bus drivers were properly trained and that vehicle safety and maintenance were strictly observed.
Ms Sann said that in addition to quality vehicles and good drivers, “pedestrian facilities must be a priority,” so that passengers can get safely from the buses to their destinations.