Riding Yangon's public buses

Vintage bus from the 30's
Lay Bein (Blue Cap)
Hino bus
State of the art Japanese bus

While I haven’t ridden a ‘public bus’ in Myanmar for decades, there’s no denying that they are at the top of Yangon’s traffic pecking order. As far as I know, there are (or were) two bus companies in this city: Ma Hta Dha, a kind of municipal supervisory authority for various private bus companies, and the posh Adipati (‘leaders’) aircon buses. The latter have their own stops and are slightly more expensive. I’ve heard rumours that sometimes they even turn on the air conditioning!

Ma Hta Dha (Motor Vehicle Control Authority) has a whole fleet of buses, from vintage cars from the 30s to rickety Hino buses from the 60s to the ‘modern’ buses (still decorated with Japanese advertising), which were only recently phased out in Japan because they had reached the age limit. In the foreseeable future, more and more Chinese buses will certainly be added, so that the introduction of right hand traffic finally proves to be a wise and farsighted measure after more than 50 years. And they told us, it was about astrology or whatsoever …

The bus drivers bear a certain resemblance to road hogs (lan thajei: = street demon) known from ‘Mad Max’ films. Many are actually holding races, sometimes resulting in serious accidents with fatalities. The driver usually flees (if he can still walk…) on foot. From my point of view these problems are ‘homemade’: drivers and conductors share in the revenue and therefore try to get passengers, no matter what. After a particularly dreadful accident that left several passengers dead, Ma Hta Dha had the driver’s licences of their charioteers checked. The result probably stunned even the locals: one third of them had no or fake driver’s licence, according to a report by the Myanmar Times… A special feature of Yangon’s city buses is the rear door, which is welded shut with solid iron girders. Of course, one might assume that this is to discourage passengers from getting off on the ‘wrong side’ (i. e. where they might then be hit by a following vehicle), but I think it is a measure against fare dodging. Imagine what happens if a fire breaks out on the bus with lots of CNG (compressed natural gas) cylinders on board and the passengers in the rear of the bus scramble to the front door … 

But that’s probably water under the bridge! A lot has happened in the field of public transport in Yangon. The Yangon Transport Board (YTB) has been around for a few years. It has modern buses, some even with air conditioning. After all, the city has a circular train system that could ease the problem. But at the current speed (if nothing goes wrong it covers 46 km in three hours) it is not an attractive alternative for the majority of the commuters. I’ve been told that the Japanese company Mitsubishi is working on a project that will reduce travel time by a third. Some branch lines connect the main circle with the more distant parts of the city (e.g. Toe Kyaung Ka Lay). Altogether, there are a total of 39 stations on the line. Unfortunately, the  carriages resemble cattle trains and the frequency of the service leaves much to be desired. The circular train could at least partially solve the traffic problems in the Burmese metropolis. Lately I’ve been observing even better trains on the tracks (some with air conditioning), but it will probably be a while before it can really help to relieve the city’s crowded main thoroughfares.

Yangon's circular train