Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Letters to the editor: City officials should obey traffic laws (as opposed to ...)

Today's (October 25, 2006) 'Letter to the editor' in the Cambodian Daily:

City officials should obey traffic laws

I'm so tired of having to risk my life walking on crowded city streets because I am unable to walk on blocked-up sidewalks. I have nearly been run over more than twice this month.
Public disorder is under the jurisdiction of the municipality. But earlier this month, I was left speechless when I saw a Phnom Penh vice-govenor and a karaoke star-turned-district official park their flashy Toyota Land Cruisers right accross the pavement on a busy street near my apartment.
Their parking behavior was not only a classic example of what not to follow, it is also a slap in the face to godd drivers and citizens alike.
Well-respected leaders lead by example. Obey the law first and the general public will follow suit.

Vuth Chansarei Phuon, Phnom Penh

Traffic signs: no u-turns

What's not allowed? No u-turns! So why in the 5 minutes while Crossing Cambodia is observing this crossroad was ther only 1 car making a u-turn? Have the Cambodians all of a sudden become law-abiding citizens? The no u-turn sign blocks just a small 150m stretch of road. And as you can see on the photo, motorcyclists prefer the shortest way, which means a preference for driving down the wrong side of the road rather than taking a u-turn.
What Crossing Cambodia did observe was an increase in the number of motorcyslists with mirrors, some very weird, clearly bought recently but meant for cars. But still not even 1%.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Getting a head start: quiet revolution?

Phnom Penh authorities are getting a head start on the traffic law by issuing a decree whereby as of November 2006 motorists (=drivers of motorcycles):
  • 'must use lights and wing mirrors'.
  • 'have until the end of the month to comply of face unspecified means of "correction".
This according to a cited article of dpa on the KI site, the DaS site also delves into this decree. As many motorists currently ride without lighting and have no mirrors at all, this suggests a quiet revolution. Something similar (all motorists needing to posess mirrors) was introduced in the Lao PDR, two years ago. As the Lao are more law abiding citizens and the authorities more law enforcing enclined, this resulted in an acute shortage of mirrors, resulting in higher prices and motorists installing not so wide car-mirrors which somehow met the requirement but could not be used. No destinct difference occured in the driving style ...
Anyway the same seems to be happening in Phnom Penh, prices for mirrors have doubled,
'though there was little sign that the decree was yet being taken seriously as almost no mirrors were in evidence on the motorbikes weaving through Phnom Penh's chaotic traffic'.

Why are there no mirrors installed on motorcycles? In Laos this was due to a forward looking mentality and it was believed that mirrors could reveal ghosts. Feng shui? Here in Cambodia:
'mirrors are often seen as something that real men don't use. "Most drivers with mirrors are women. Women use them to touch up make-up," one skeptical officer, whose own private bike does not sport mirrors, said'.

The Details are Sketchy site concludes:
'Clearly, something should be done to get a handle on Phnom Penh’s anarchic traffic. But requiring wing mirrors and indicator lights seems about as likely to work as, say, requiring drivers to have a working speedometer. Which is to say, not one bit. Because the real problem is not a lack of wing mirrors — or indicator lights, for that matter — it’s that people have nothing but contempt for traffic laws and the police officers that occasionally try to enforce them'.

Well said. From a population which even disregards traffic lights backed up with traffic police directed instructions not much can be expected. How about focussing on enforcing current regulations?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hearsay: on driving licenses

Phnom Penh Post (October 20-November 2) keep up the in-depth reports on traffic related issues.

'License to kill: trafficking in the transport ministry'
reveals the 'ease' of obtaining adriving license. Leng Thum Yuthea, director general of transport at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport last year promised that the then newly acquired technology

'would reduce the opportunity for paying off officials for a license'.
More than a year later the promise seems to be broken. At least the report says it simply costs more. Bribes have risen

'from US $ 20 to US $ 80 for passing the computer and driving tests on road rules'.
Even if you pass the exams, but do not pay the bribe, you still do not get the license. Then again if you do not know how to drive , but pay, you get a license. To test this the Post went to the Department's offices and asked a motodop driver hanging around (=a dealer?). He said he could arrange everything for US $ 150 (if you can't drive), US $ 110 if you could. Apparently 'his cut' was just US $ 5, the rest mark-up? The 'official' response of the deputy director of the Land Transport Department:

'could not comment about corruption... because it was outside his jurisdiction (?), he did not dare to know....'
The article also mentions the August statistics: 78 dead.

So where does that leave us?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Traffic signs: Give way

Give way or not? This sign board indicates on the enormous Independence monument roundabout that all traffic approaching the roundabout should give way to the traffic on the roundabaout. Underneath is written in Khmer 'Give right(?) to everybody'. Internationally the correct interpretation is :
'In road transport, a yield (United States) and or give way (United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries) indicates that a of a must slow down and prepare to stop if necessary (usually while merging into traffic on another) but does not need to stop if there is no reason to'.(Wikipedia)

So what happens in a short 5 minute burst at 11.30 on a clear and sunny Friday morning?

Twenty-three cars and 8 motorcycles were forced to stop (!) due to approaching traffic. Complete opposite of what is allowed. Probably because it was not busy maybe, as this encourages traffic approaching the roundabout to push through while the 'rounding' traffic is slower. In one incident motorcycles actually touched! So again the traffic signs are not used for what they are meant.Time for a re-education camp?

Updating Crossing Cambodia's readers

Take a look at this picture above. The authorities have deemed it wise to fill the potholes in street 63 but, as it is a busy street, they need to cordon part of the street off. For this thay use a thin strip of tape with a few sticks. The tape is so thin you do not even see it on the photo. Did it help? Not really. Half an hour later this solution was not used as a number of the sticks had been broken. And has the street improved? Wait and see.

In the recent weeks not so may postings from Crossing Cambodia. Why not? Well, generating own content costs time and from the press there is little revealing insights: this week five seems to be the unlucky number, three separate accidents on 3 separate days have resulted in 5 dead in each accident. Everything (speeding, drugs, alcohol, ignorance)/one got the blame. One incident was a cement truck backing onto a national highway which resulted in two speeding vehicles losing control. Another was a nighttime accident when a vehicle without lighting crashes into another vehicle without lighting on an unlit road. Hmmm.

Should Crossing Cambodia keep you posted?

Anyway, in the coming weeks the layout will be improved hopefully.

Traffic signs: Stop!

Well, what distinguishes anarchy from chaos from (some form of) regulated order? Traffic laws, enforcing these and general adherence to a set of rules. So what is easier than a stop sign? What does it mean?

A stop sign is a traffic sign, usually erected at road junctions, that instructs drivers to make a brief and temporary, but complete, stop upon reaching it, and then to proceed only if the way ahead is clear.
That's what Wikipedia defines of the internationally recognised stop sign.

So in what way does Cambodia differ? Besids the appearance of Khmer on the signboard there does seem to be a different local interpretation in this. A 5 minute survey this morning at 8.45 on the cornor of street 310 and street 63 revealed that just 11.5% (6 of 52) of the motorcyclists and 23.8% (5 of 21) really stopped.

To tell the truth, none of these vehicles voluntarily stopped but were forced to stop due to the the heavy amount of traffic crossing street 63 (whom have right of way) or because the vehicle of front of them had stopped. Some vehicles (2) even managed to halt the crossing traffic on street 63 by simply horning and disregarding their (street 63 users) right of way.

So little compliance to this traffic sign.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On toll roads

With the lack of infrastructure in Cambodia it is no wonder that the government has come to see toll roads as having the potential of providing rapidly built roads with little or no costs on the government side. On national scale the main highway between the capital and the port city of Sihanoukville is run by a toll company. The company provides road maintenance in return for the permission to charge the users for toll at the start and finish of the road. Considering the condition of this road, everyone seems quite satisfied with this agreement; it certainly is the best highway in the country.
With this success in mind, cash-strapped local governments have started more toll road initiatives. A good example is the International School street here in Phnom Penh. This road provides a short cut to the main highways south and the airport. More importantly it leaves the user the possibility of avoiding the traffic snarl where a ring road meets the main access road out of the city and two of the most important boulevards in the city: chaos and anarchy. However, the toll road is built on the premise that the builder will invest all money he currently receives for providing the link in the upgrade. Well, at least that’s what Crossing Cambodia concludes. It has a poor road surface and until recently there were potholes. For this, cars are charged roughly 0,25 $US, not much, but usually when you pay for something (in this case a road) you expect to receive something, at the very least you could hope to have just as good a road as government road.
Today’s Cambodian Daily (5 October 2006) reports extensively on a new toll road in the provincial capital of Takeo. The government does not have the money to provide an access road to a national highway and asks a businessperson to invest. This person invests 600,000 $US in a 4km road and receives a 30 year concession to ask the public for funds. The new road runs parallel to an older road, which apparently is more or less crowded. The provincial governor mentions that the road was constructed ‘to reduce traffic jams and road accidents’ elsewhere. Well that all sounds swell. Only question Crossing Cambodia has is how is the owner going to get his money back? Without inflation he needs to make 20,000 $US / year or 54 $ /day. Let’s for this argument’s sake say that the constructer needs $100 per day to retrieve his initial investment. Will he succeed? Apparently the constructor is getting nervous, because he has just raised the tariff from 0,25 $US for taxi’s to 0,83 $US. This coincided with the provincial government forcing taxi-drivers to use the new road (citing the above). So now the toll road is built for public use but forcibly asking drivers to pay. In such circumstances one wonders how the local situation has improved? Would a public road not have been the best solution and getting the funds from road taxes?
A short side street on this subject was a proposal launched in the beginning of the year which entailed exempting all parliamentarians from paying toll on the toll roads. The reason given was that they are very busy and do not have the time to wait in line and probably wait for the cashier to find change for the hundred dollar bill.

A section of a toll road

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Traffic law will crack down on ....

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