Crossing Cambodia

Friday, November 30, 2007

Statistical Analysis

During the past year and half mention has often been made of the Road Traffic Accident Victim Information System, a BTC, Handicap International and Cambodian government initiative to register and provide information on traffic accidents. besides annual reports there are monthly reports which can be downloaded from the Road Safety Site.

The September 2007 report is available online and Crossing Cambodia would like to draw you more into the details:
  • Three quarter of the victims / those involved were males!
  • In September only 2% of the casualties were car drivers, nearly 10% pedestrians! [there are hardly any pedestrians and at this rate not many will be left]
  • Nearly half suffered head injuries
  • Most casualties occur from 5-8 pm
  • Three percent of the casualties were due to driving in the wrong direction
  • Forty percent of the accidents were between motorcycles, 7% were singular motorcycle accidents
  • A quarter of the four-wheel vehicles involved had the steering wheel on the wrong side
  • Only 4 % of the motorcyclists involved had helmets on
  • Nearly 40% of the casualties needed more than 2 hours to get to the hospital
  • Preah Vihear is one of the safest provinces (concerning traffic): only 3 accidents this year, Oddar Meanchey only had 9 accidents, but the figures seemed flawed: in some months there were traffic related deaths but no accidents. The same flaws seem apparent with Kep province, two accidents and three deaths
As you can see from these statistics there are convincing cases to be made to ensuring traffic laws currently described in the traffic law to be enforced, even if they would be piecemeal, i.e. making everyone wear helemets. However, ....

Stan the Man

Stan is well known on this site for a few postings referring to publications on the Khmer 440 site which earned him a write upon Crossing Cambodia. Considering he managed today (30 November, 2007) to make The Cambodia Daily 'Letter to the Editor' section, on a subject ,not only dear to our heart, but the topic of the previous posting, I feel compelled to retype it here:
Trams a Nice Idea but Buses Needed Now

Now there's talk of a tram system for Phnom Penh. A short while ago it was a skytrain. Both are great ideas and essential for a modern city's future but both are akin to expecting a baby to walk or even run before it learns to crawl.

What a city needs is a bus system which would be easier, cheaper, simpler and faster to initiate than rail transit. In any case, it would take years to get trams or skytrains operational, whereas Phnom Penh needs public transit now.

Besides, buses are needed regardless: rail transit is not a substitute for a bus system, only a complement. The city is densifying very quickly along with accelerating growth in vehicle registrations.

People who applaud the new sky-scrapers being constructed in Phnom Penh don't seem to realize that bringing large numbers of people to those destinations will also bring traffic chaos if those workers and visitors don't have the option of getting there by mass transit. A bus system should be one of the city's highest priorities.

Stan Kahn, Phnom Penh
This is very much in line with what Crossing Cambodia suggested a couple of days ago. Co-incidentally,the rest of the page was dedicated to an article on (the failures of) modernism. Is this similarly a case? Believing that the Messiahs will arrive once Phnom Penh has a tram and or Skytrain? Think again!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cambodian Officialdom on Planes, Trains and Assorted

Sometimes reporting on transport concerns in Cambodia has much to do with 'Aladdin and his magic lamp", Alladin being Cambodian officials, the lamp representing the 'idea'.

Take for example a number of messages the last week.
Case 1: Cambodia to set up new national airline
As reported all over the world, but here linking to the article on the KI Media website. The essence: Cambodia's government strikes a deal with an Indonesian company allowing it to operate a national flag carrier in return for a significant amount of the profit.

Two problems in this story, they are 'national' and 'profit'. The current situation in Cambodian skies is that there is no government owned airline (though there are other Cambodian companies such as Royal Khmer and President Airlines), a unique factor which has attributed to the overall growth of the tourism sector, one of the main pillars of Cambodia's economy. With the absence of vested (national and thus political) interests, the Cambodian government has been encouraging as much business as possible. the more the merrier. Nearly everyone can fly in to / out of Phnom Penh and whether they make a profit or not is not the Cambodia's government's concern. The one exception is the Bangkok - Siem Reap sector which is run as a monopoly by Bangkok Airways, condoned by the current Cambodian government.

So why now try to set up a national flag carrier? With the significant recent growth of tourism, the perception has been that Cambodia's economy fails to profit sufficiently. One problem is the lack of national production meeting tourists demand. As such nearly everything is flown in, leaving just construction and employment in tourist services as significantly contributing to the Cambodian economy. To address this 'leakage' problem, the idea apparently is to get an airline in place and tax the profits. One problem is that even if profits are forthcoming (a big problem for other flag carriers in Southeast Asia) accounting procedures in Cambodia are hardly established meaning that the Cambodian government may well see nothing of it's share of the profits. Even though they have a substantial part of the airline, the aircraft will probably be leased, so the government is getting 51% of the airlines assets which equals zero, which in Crossing Cambodia's calculation is still zero.

That said, in the meantime there may be the possibility to commandeer seats or even a whole aircraft so as to get officials kids/wives to school/shopping in Bangkok / Hong Kong, a phenomena which has arisen in recent years just over Cambodia's eastern border.

But with the current 'open skies' policy, there is hardly any room for extra flights (i.e. there is perfect competition). This implies that these policies must change so as to allow the national carrier to access profitable routes (to / from Thailand and / or China) or (so as not too frighten the current carriers) to make sure any future growth in flights to Cambodia is awarded to the national flag carrier.

Even though some questions remain (how big will the flag carrier be?), with the signature of Peter Sondakh, the Cambodian government seems to have a guarantee that future payments to the state will take place. Mr. Sondakh is an Indonesian with quite some experience and very deep pockets: his company is currently trying to take over the Indonesia flag carrier, Garuda. However, Indonesia has in the past had massive problems with corruption as well as having a dismal record in regulating it's skies, not necessarily aspects which would look good on a potential airline's investor's report card. With Cambodia's recent past in aviation littered by accidents and failed airlines one might wonder whether or not this investment will assist Cambodia at all.

But one thing that does stick is that in the run-up to elections, playing to nationalistic sentiments surely must pay off. But whether it makes economic sense?

Case 2: French company plans to operate trams in Cambodia
The full story here. The essence. Big French muliti-billion company (Alsthom) devise plan to have it's products up and running in Cambodia. It impresses local officials who will now support it. No mention is made of who will pay for this.

Possibly this latter, is part of the overall strategy: here we are, we will solve all your plans, you just have to start to yearn /crave for it, then cough up some money (in case no money is forthcoming maybe we can ask French 'gouvernement' for some bridging finance, possibly with some EU money somewhere along the track). Whether or not it solves the problem is entirely besides the question, who doesn't want to impress all and sundry (including voters) with a swish train / tram / lorrie which does not seem to cost anything?

Just a few months back, the Thai were here proclaiming how their Skytrain would be up and running in the near future.

Possibly both the Thai and the French should heed the experience of the Japanese who couldn't even get a bus system running within Phnom Penh. Let's hope the Chinese can get a reliable taxi system working (should not be beyond them).

So should we not dream? Yes, no problem with that, but current problems with traffic congestion are simply due to the lack of adhering to a simple language of red light means stop. Last Tuesday evening Crossing Cambodia plied through Monivong Boulevard during rush hour while it was totally packed, but only due to the fact that the main crossings were blocked and blocked again. Get everyone to stop when lights are red, go when green and the need for sophisticated systems of transport will not be required at least for the near future.

If starting now with a city bus system , this would be effective in 1-2 years time and in 5 years time look for a mass transport system, preferably underground, that's how it is done internationally, even in Bangkok and Paris!

Case 3: Dong Thap [province in vietnam] approves road link to Cambodia. The link, the essence: with just 4.5 million dollars this Vietnamese province will build a road, basically for their own satisfaction. Where's the money coming from?[everybody suddenly takes an interest in their shining shoes and /or are all the lights on?]

Case 4:Cambodia asks China, India, Japan to help improve rural projects
The link, the essence of the stories: Hun Sen (the ever-serving Cambodian PM) needs to develop the country fast (after all elections are coming up in six months) so he now requests China and Japan for hand-outs. What the Chinese get out of the deal Crossing Cambodia hardly knows, but they tend to look well after themselves (as do all other 'donors'). With Toyota cars making up half of the standard Cambodian car-park, their 'donation' will always reap handsome rewards.

But what do the cases have in common? A lack of vision, a lack of will to tackle the problems themselves, a absolute disregard to finances ('Cambodia is such a poor country, please forgive us our debts') and a faith in piecemeal approaches to overall economic and social problems. It all seems to be tied in with power, the power to have and how to keep this power.
Well, as long as it's not Crossing Cambodia's money, it's not my problem. What does worry Crossing Cambodia is that in the event of an adverse economic climate elsewhere (the states?) how at all will the country survive? On nearly all aspects Cambodians rely and continue to rely on having absolute faith in the goodness of foreigners / foreign countries to dole out money to address their simple problems. In Thailand you win elections promoting self-sufficiently, here presumably by passing the bill on to future generations, be they Cambodian or foreigners. Let's hope that the money tap continues to be open for a long, long time, while the local politicians start rubbing up the lamp once more!

Cambodia's main railroad from phnom Penh to the coast!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chasing Cars Cambodian Style, 20 November 2007

  • With law enforcement high on the agenda at least in the Cambodian newspapers, it's good to see other countries improving their safety records. According to the Bangkok Post (no link) a law was passed last week banning the use of mobile phones by drivers while their vehicles are moving. Though novel in Thailand, the new traffic law in Cambodia already bans this. Surprisingly if you're driving a motorcycle with a computer modem between your legs and an old-fashioned monitor under one arm, this is perfectly legal. The same in Thailand. The same Thailand also reported how an army helicopter was (mis-)used to pick up mushrooms for the pilots mother!
  • How to get Cambodians to wear helmets? A ceremony. That's what happened in Battambang province according to Khmer This approach tactic already seems to be working:
    'In 2007, about 1,693 victims was suffered from traffic accidents in Battambang province, among them 5 people was dead. It is decreased [!] if compared to last year’s statistic'.
  • More happy people over at the Department of Land Transport. More than 30,000 students have taken driving lessons since the beginning of September. The number of licenses issued has skyrocketed to 7,894; that bearing in mind that the total number of motor drivers with license was 2,085 if the count starts in January 1990!
  • Boat racing is here and tuk-tuks are out! Out of the city center according to city officials, not that it really mattered, from late afternoon onwards you can only walk. Four million visitors are expected.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Accident aftermath

The main traffic related news of the last few days, has been the tragic incident, which resulted in the death of a French woman, who was here 'interning' Crossing Cambodia believes. At least big news in Phnom Penh.

Just to recap (though a link to an AFP report of the accident on KI Media is here): The victim was on the back of a moto, during mid-day. So-called purse snatchers try to steal her purse, but are only able to drag her off the motorcycle into the path of a minivan which could not avoid her, resulting in her death. But both culprits as well as the driver of moto and van have disappeared, the police are trying to explain that this was just a traffic accident.

Besides this line, there are quite a few aspects related to this incident: the KI Media site (in the aforementioned article) has 21 reactions so far (mostly lamented the lack of law and order in Hun Sen's era) and Khmer 440 has currently more than 6 pages of comments on their forum (mostly pointing out the lack of security, though (tastelessly) also commenting on how a purse over the shoulder can add attraction to the female physique).

Though I have some comments myself, today's (November 19, 2007) Cambodia Daily 'Letter to the Editor' captures quite a bit of what I would like to add. As these letters are less often available on the i-net, this is the whole letter:
'Take Steps to make Phnom Penh Safer.
I have been very sadden to learn that another victim, this time a French woman, Aurelia Lacroix, has died from a tragedy caused most likely by bag-snatchers who dragged her into the path of an approaching mini-van on one of the main Phnom Penh roads.
I'd first like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the family of Ms. Lacroix and other victims of such crimes. Also I would like to appeal to the national police to take more immediate and appropriate measures to stop high-speed bag snatchings and other far too common crimes like robbing and killing people for their motorbikes, or the snatching of belongings.
This recent incident has arguably worsened perceptions of security among the Phnom Penh residents and tourists.
Many people recommend that the following measures should be taken:
  • More policemen should be deployed to regularly patrol the roads.
  • Surveillance camera's should be installed at various corners of the main streets or other public places that have a high prevalence of crimes.
  • Greater means of communication are needed to catch the thieves.
  • Individuals providing public transport - especially tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi and cyclo drivers - should be encouraged to cooperate more with the police,as they are often very close to the crime scenes.
  • The police should be physically and financially equipped to do their jobs. Police should be fairly paid, more careful attention should be paid to them, and rewards should be offered to motivate them.
If the above recommendations are genuinely followed, everyone will surely be proud of the national police and enjoy living in a more peaceful and secure environment. Not only would a state of good security win applause from Cambodians but it would also attract more tourists, increasing employment for local people.

Muong Nareth, Phnom Penh'.

Crossing Cambodia would like to agree with the assumption that these kind (or worse) of unfortunate incidents are commonplace in Cambodia and they are by no means confined to just these knacks of the wood; the same happens daily, down under, in Europe or North America; the only difference is that this time the victim is a foreigner.

Does this mean that this sort of crime should be ignored? Certainly not, but the culture of impunity in Cambodia is very much pervasive. Changing this is difficult, though with the Khmer Rouge (leaders) now publicly on trial, it seems that there is more willingness of officials to tackle those living on the wrong side of the law, irrespective of their (financial) power, but being a CPP party member is still very much relevant as to claim immunity. In time, the above process will hopefully result in better policing on the streets. The letter writer fails to notice that the tools for policing are there in the form of laws. The lack of policing is not due to lack of incentives or facilities but a lack of willingness.

One aspect which does not seem to take much notice, is that the victim had no helmet (Phnom Penh Post published a photo of victim after the accident, which stirred up a lot of controversy). Despite this being required by law as well as being advised nearly on all sites giving advice on traffic (related) issues. Without knowing the exact causes of her death, I can not say for sure, but possibly the outcome might have been different has she been wearing a helmet.

Ensuring general safety on the roads is the task of police (as enforcers) and the administration (by providing 'tools' and encouraging the process). In that the Cambodian authorities have dismally failed. Let's hope the this accident helps the authorities to get their priorities right: ensuring public safety is a must for any government, where ever, when ever.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chasing Cars Cambodian Style,12 November 2007

  • Gasoline prices soar?
    'Prices at Phnom Penh's Chevron (former Caltex), Sokimex, Total and Tela stations jumped to 4,450 riel (about 1.1 U.S. dollars) Monday from 4,050 riel (about one dollars) per liter for "premium" gasoline, the Cambodia Daily newspaper said'.
    Well, what's surprising is that local vendors, seen yesterday, charge 3100 - 3300 Riel, roughly 25% less! So, no wonder the official pumps are never busy.
    One reason for the price rises which the article fails to reflect, is that due to the dollarisation of the local Cambodian economy, all price rises in the world market price for oil, are automatically met by price rises at the pump in Cambodia, though in most countries this has been off-set with the current weakening of the US dollar, which means that in neighbouring countries petrol is becoming relatively cheaper which in turn leads to more smuggling.
  • Naturally, the opposition seized on the increase in fuel prices to lambast government, even blaming the government for:
    'The price of gasoline has nearly tripled this year, ...'.
    Problem is that this is not true or have I been sleeping? Thanx to KIMedia and VOA.
  • Talking about elections: Hun Sen sees his new opposition in the increasing number of street racers. What will he do? Hun Sen said:
    “Some kids have all the time they need, and they even have the money but they turn around and race cars and motorcycles instead, and in doing so they create unsafe problems in the past few days,....
    Hun Sen severely stressed: “I will fire (the parents) for you to see.... In the past, you do not want to report them to me, ...
    But you (police officers) do not dare report these cases to me, if you were to report them to me, I will fire the parents immediately, if Hun Sen cannot do that, I will resign.”
    And these are just some excerpts, it all seems so harsh. The KIMedia article generates a lot of interest, 39(!) comments. Then KI Media produce their own article (a unicum?), though by then many other media have mentioned this case. They name the culprit (Ung Vanna, son of 3 star general Ung Samkham) and are now waiting for the government to respond. Let's hope they are not holding their breath.
  • In the meantime it looks like Phnom Penh is of the verge of entering the taxi-era.
    'City inks deal to 300 Cabs to Streets'
    is the front page headline news from The Cambodia Daily on the 7th of November 2007. The taxi charges are meant to be 0.50 $US per km. This despite the article mentioning that the Vietnamese try-out of a few months back has floundered. It apparently did not have an official contract, though that seems to be just part of the reason. Oh yeah, the new taxis will not be operating from the airport, as these 'airport taxi's' are already involved in some 'official' racket. My cabbie mentioned something of having to pay 7,000 $US for the privilege to pick up incoming passengers and charge them a couple of dollars more.
  • Vietnam earmark 1.8 billion (!) $US for an expressway between Chau Doc (Vietnam) and Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Daily reported. The Cambodia official side seem to know little about the project.
  • More violence:
    'Two police detained in shooting after crash',
    the Cambodian Daily reported on November 8, 2007. Here we complain about law enforcement and now the law is enforced, ...
    No, no: the setting: Car A hits B (unclear whether vehicle B is a car of motorcycle). One passenger in vehicle B dies, wife and child are injured. Car A continues and driver of A (son of a provincial deputy police chief) consequently flees. However his license plate remains at crash site. Person X takes license plate as an 'insurance'. Two police offers shoot person X (in the chest) as he fails to hand them the license plate. Family of deceased refrain from pursuing complaint as perpetrator has already paid compensation. That's the way things go here.

Road Tips

Adding to the informative amount of ways of coping with Phnom Penh traffic, the following text is lifted from the Phnom Penh Out and About Cambodia Pocket Guide:
'Road Tips 202
Beware fat cat road hogs and pop-star-wannabe “Dream” pilots. Their survivability rivals that of even the hardiest of cockroaches.

The advent of paved roads and traffic lights has brought a veneer of order to Phnom Penh streets. But underlying this windshield-transparent facade are the same behaviours shared by local drivers since the internal combustion engine first appeared along the boulevards. At first glance, the neophyte sees nothing but chaos. However, there is a system in place that belies first impressions. Understanding it will go a long way toward one’s continued well being behind the wheel or handlebars. Here are a few pointers.

Tip #1: Don’t hit anything.
Okay, this may seem obvious. But even a simple fender-bender will be more time consuming than you think. As a foreigner, chances are you are white and immediately subject to the principle of “skin tax”. Simply put, you are in the wrong no matter what (Khmer logic: you're a foreigner, and if you weren't here, the accident wouldn't have happened) and therefore subject to the extraction of as much money as the other party can manage. The easiest way to avoid this is not get into an accident, period.

Tip #2: Crossing busy intersections.
It’s acceptable to creep into the flow of traffic to make space for yourself. Make yourself visible and use your skin colour to your advantage; a Lexus driver understands that it will be much more of a hassle if he damages a foreigner than if he merely flattens a local. Think of yourself as a Ming Dynasty vase in a moving creek. Keep your inner calm and allow the traffic to flow around you. Better still, ally yourself with a few other vehicles, a car or two will come in handy here, and edge into the flow with your impromptu school of other small fish.

Tip #3: Speed.
This is controversial. There’s a school of thought that implies if you go fast enough, you don’t have to worry about half of the traffic, the half behind you that is. There’s some validity to this, but while technically, if you’re hit by someone behind you it’s their fault, it may not do you much good if you’re mashed into a fleshy pulp. And even if you aren’t, see Tip #1. The other and probably safer opinion is to go slow. Motos in close proximity usually have a surprisingly keen perception of their situational awareness and will make a space, albeit small, for you and your movements. You can inform the more oblivious ones of your presence with a chirp from your horn or a rev of your engine.

Tip #4: Turning left.
This manoeuvre is a bit more advanced and will test your 360 degree peripheral vision. Immediately turn left sticking as close to the curb as possible, swerving around any mobile vendors as necessary. Oncoming traffic will give you right of way but beware cops who will attempt to ticket you. To cross over, scan the oncoming traffic for a hole, which you can use to scoot across their lane(s), while simultaneously scanning the right-lane traffic behind you for a gap there. Scoot with authority.

Tip #5: On that note, sound.
This may appear a bit rude, but can save paint, glass and skin. Drivers are getting used to horns and therefore their value is on the decline. Consider a pipe for your bike that if not loud, at least has a distinguishing tone. Locals love novelty and anything different including the tone of your bike; it will alert others to your presence. Of course, you can choose to wear a helmet, but that kind of takes the sport out of it doesn’t it?'
Fair or not? Well, despite the racial undertones (whites vs Khmer) Crossing Cambodia believes this a fair reflection of the on-road situation. But it is just a starter, the reality requires much more information, which if you care to look through some of the postings on this site, you would gain much more information. .

Monday, November 05, 2007

Chasing Cars, 6 November 2007

Missed Crossing Cambodia? Nah? Hmm, wondering wants happening to the site? Keep wondering, Crossing Cambodia has some long term plans ....

In the meantime, CC just came back from a week holidays. Cambodia was world news! For what? The local supremo's adopted daughter officially switches sexual preference, so as a good surrogate father you cut them from your will. Don't worry, even Dick Cheney (the Darth Vader?) has these kinds of problems.

Furthermore the North Korea PM paid his Cambodian cronies a visit, to bolster economic and cultural ties.

And finally the traffic news: DPA picked upon a recent trend to use animal noises as horns. Crossing Cambodia has not witnessed this himself, though once saw a foreigner on a motorcycle using his horn which resembled a policeman blowing his whistle. It didn't help much and anyway it's not allowed anymore (for fear of 're-education' [like the sound of that]). More tidbits:
  • Believe the new traffic law means every one can get a traffic license without paying all and sundry? Think again. The Phnom Penh Post apparently uncovers scams costing more than $100 to get a driver's license without sitting any exam.
  • See picture, Pol Pot's car is for sale.
  • Rainy season means thousands of trucks stuck on national highway 57
  • Getting stuck? The Bangkok - Siem Reap blog Updates Report on October 2007, mentions
    'mafia taxi's'.
    Apparently run by the maffia for the public good. One report:
    'The road to SR is still a mess but passable with care'.
    Another lady mentions:
    'Believe me after that 6 1/2 hrs taxi ride I was pretty upset, ...'.
  • Less stuck is this expose called Rush hour at Angkor: visiting the temples by push-bike. Conclusion:
    'I'm well and truly spent. One day of this type of exertion is plenty...'.
  • Getting unstuck and less exerting: Dancing Roads Dirtbike:
    'Brave yourself against seemingly impassable roads, ...'.
  • Getting stuck at the Lao-Cambodian border: Sun san's forum entry on Khmer 440 shows you the way north from Phnom Penh, literally on his flickr site.
Then finally a round up of all kind of miscellaneous announcements on infrastructure / government decisions:
  • Free skies coming your way?
    'It's open skies as 10 Southeast Asian nations agreed this to week to have free air access between their capital cities by December next year'.
    Pie in the sky.
  • Building bridges in times of elections.
  • And what all this can lead to? Vietnam News reports that the city Hue is unable to cope with just the Thai arrivals, what with a new bridge over the Mekong and a beauty of a road to Central North coast of Vietnam. On the 23rd of October more than 6,000 Thai visited Hue, however it only has 'nearly 6,000 rooms'.
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