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Phnom Penh launches first buses in decade

AFP-JIJI

Motorcycles, cars, tuk-tuks and the humble rickshaw dominate the Cambodian capital’s traffic-clogged roads, but now Phnom Penh is launching a new weapon in the fight against chronic congestion: its first public buses in over a decade.

Cambodia lags behind many of its neighbors that long ago turned to public transport in a bid to ease traffic gridlock in major cities.

The last time officials tried to introduce public buses in the capital in 2001, they were a flop.

This time, the rapidly developing country hopes that commuters are ready to swap the door-to-door convenience of motorbikes for the comfort and safety of public transport.

There is growing frustration about daily traffic jams and fatal accidents in the city of about 2 million people, who compete for space on the roads with more than 1 million motorbikes and 300,000 cars.

As part of a one-month trial, 10 air-conditioned buses have been running from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. on a single route up and down Monivong Boulevard since Feb. 5.

If successful, more routes and buses will be added, City Hall senior official Koeut Chhe said.

With a fare of 1,500 riels (35 cents), a bus journey is at least five times cheaper than taking a motorbike taxi — known locally as “moto-dup” — the most common transport in Cambodia.

Many locals, including students and young and old people, have used the new public transport, some taking pictures and chatting with friends about the experience.

It is the second attempt by City Hall and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to launch a public bus service to address traffic jams. JICA said the traffic nowadays has become much heavier.

“The time is ripe for public buses due to a change of mindset of citizens, who are concerned more about safety and comfort,” said JICA spokesman Masahiko Egami.