More than 100 holiday season commuters were stranded for hours in Phnom Penh Thursday morning as private taxi drivers who normally ply the routes to the north of the country were swamped, leaving passengers with long waits and paying high prices for transport to Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
Phsar Thmey’s taxi queue, which usually is filled with drivers tussling for passengers, was quiet Thursday as travelers waited more than six hours for vehicles to make the journey.
Several taxis did leave Phnom Penh late Thursday evening, but passengers were forced to pay higher prices because seats were scarce, making it impossible for some to make the journey for the New Year Holiday.
Passengers headed to other provinces also reported higher prices Thursday.
Already two hours into her wait for a ride at Phsar Thmey Thursday morning, Oun Ry, 57, said police officers told her all cars bound for Banteay Meanchey had already departed by 6 am.
Oun Ry said she was pinning her hopes on taxis, which were due to arrive in Phnom Penh late Thursday evening from the northern provinces, for making a return trip.
“It’s very important for me to go back and see my children and grandchildren,” said Oun Ry.
“It’s just once or twice a year we can meet and have a party together,” she said.
Passengers reported taxi drivers doubled the cost of the journey and were charging between $15 and $19 per person to Battambang, and even higher to Banteay Meanchey province.
Seng Ok, a sweets seller in Phnom Penh, said Thursday morning that if there is a taxi available, she was planning to go to Banteay Meanchey for the first time in four years.
But, she added, if the prices had doubled, she would not be able to afford to make the trip.
“I am very concerned because there are no cars, and the price of traveling is very high,” she said. “I have only $30 for the whole new year and that has to pay for the return taxi.”
Phan Nang said she didn’t care how much the taxi cost as long as she found one to take her to Battambang. “I will spend as much as I can, because it’s a time for meeting our relatives,” she said.
By evening some taxis had arrived from the northern cities and provinces and passengers who could afford the inflated prices had departed, said Ar Khmao, a municipal guard in charge of parking at Phsar Thmey taxi rank.
But holiday spirits weren’t all low at the taxi queue Thursday as one driver explained how it’s his best time of year to do business.
Demand for seats around the Khmer New Year and the Pchum Ben festival in September are annual windfalls, said taxi driver Sorn Sokra Thursday evening. He said he makes about $100 per day on the days leading up to the holidays.
“I am very happy when the holidays come each year,” he said.