Crossing Cambodia

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chasing Cars, September 23, 2008

With Pchum Ben festivities nearing, both the police checks and bag snatching have increased, is this not a contradiction?

Despite the outbreak of police checks, moto's with mirrors are still increasing but not in majority. The same applies for helmet wearing drivers, 40-50% now have taken to wearing helmets. Still if you have witnessed the effort the traffic police have dedicated to pulling moto's up, the figure might represent a disappointment, possibly something is going wrong with the enforcement.

Witness Crossing Cambodia did of a bag snatching incident. Two guys pull up next to 2 girls, chat, chat, laugh, laugh, lung, grab and tear off down a side street. Be careful out there!
  • The government is now pressuring oil companies to get their prices down. All the posturing resulted in the prices at the pump drop by a whopping 0,02 $US! This article in the Phnom Penh Post sums up all the claims: prices have failed to go down.
    But the government responds:
    'International crude oil prices soared more than 84 percent by June 2008, while the price of petrol in Cambodia only rose about 40 percent, the [Finance] minister said, crediting the difference to the government's "silent subsidy" of petrol'.
    Unfortunately the 'silent subsidy' claims that the government probably stopped increasing it's import revenue on petrol, changing from a percentage tariff to a fixed amount. So no subsidy, just less income. Then again why should the government get more by fleecing the consumer?
  • Bangkok, this weekend, saw the 'Car Free Day'. And that does not mean that cars were exempt from paying toll on the elevated highways! No, it means grab a bike or take the bus. Funny thing is it is government endorsed:
    'In Thailand, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Bicycle for Health Society, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and Green Peace Southeast Asia will join 14 of the world's largest cities in the car-free day'.
    The closest Cambo authorities get to even mentioning non-motorized transport is when they slag off all too poor for having no wheels. The gov of PP mentioned:
    'Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said Sunday that the citywide pavement narrowing project will help make more room for cars, and should not be problematic as few people use the capital’s sidewalks anyway.
    “I want to reduce all the sidewalks to be smaller and smaller because our people use cars and motorbikes. We do not like to walk” Kep Chuktema said'.
  • Car Free Day was 'celebrated' in Vietnam as well.
  • In Vietiane they have a novelty:
    'The Vientiane Urban Development and Administration Authority is in the process of installing 50 road name signs around Vientiane ...'
    'Forty road signs have already been installed, but the authority lacks sufficient funds to continue with the project and is waiting for further support from the International Association of French Mayors.
    Thank god for the French.
  • Why Cambo airlines will never get anywhere: more than a year after an air crash involving South Koreans the relatives have actually have to sue the Cambodian airline to get some kind of compensation. Let's hope they're not holding their breath.
    What are you in for?
    'South Korean investigators have concluded that the accident was caused by pilot error, problems with the airport's automated radar terminal system and defects in the plane'.
  • A very strange article in the Sydney Morning:
    'Malaysia's worst in the world taxis tarnish image
    In a survey by the local magazine The Expat, some 200 foreigners from 30 countries rated Malaysia the worst among 23 countries in terms of taxi quality, courtesy, availability and expertise'.
    Well quite correct to take those taxi drivers to the cleaners, my opinion is similar: they are not at all what Malaysia makes them to be. Then again, Malaysia = truly Asia, so not such a big surprise. Cambodia counts itself lucky they weren't part of the survey on the grounds of having no taxi's to speak of. Could Cambodia not have entered moto's instead., they are after all our local 'taxis'? See who then would end at the bottom of the heap. Our moto drivers are no where near a KL taxi driver ...
  • Another bad Poipet experience:
    'We also got shepherd into a mafia taxi with another couple, we all pay 15 usd each. The mafia man taking charge of getting us into a taxi was getting angry with us because we first lied about having our visa already when he approached us at immigration on the Thai side, then we didn't go straight to his taxi and wanted to look around. He kept saying we could trust him, he was with the Tourist Police and we told him we didn't trust them either.
    We couldn't find any other option so took his anyway'.
  • Back to the bag snatchers. There are also amateurs entering this profession:
    Chea Dara, 16, was severely beaten by a crowd of bystanders after he pulled Kong Darany, 28, off her motorbike in an unsuccessful bag snatching attempt on the corner of street 109 and Russian Boulevard in Prampi Makara district of Phnom Penh at 11:30am Monday. The police said that Chea Dara, who was pulled off his motorbike by the bystanders, "was severely beaten by the people until he lost consciousness". He is currently in police custody awaiting trial'.
  • More things increasing:
    'Some 1,777 traffic accident casualties were reported by hospitals, health centres, private clinics and traffic police departments in 24 provinces for June, an increase of 20 percent over May, according to the Cambodian Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System'.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Chasing Cars, the wet edition

Some torrential down pours this week. This lead to a first feature:
  • Vuthasurf describes what happens when the heavens open themselves. The consequences are
      a. everybody waits til the rain is over.
      b. the streets flood
      c. once drier everybody simultaneously decides to hit the flooded streets.

    And then?
    'During the rain, the drivers of cars and motorbikes rarely respect the traffic light.... While I reached the traffic light, the large number of motorbikes, cars, and trucks close together and unable to move or moving very slowly in the middle of street'.
    And the traffic police:
    'While during the chaos in the street, I did not see the traffic police officers at the sense in order to help ease the trouble of the traffic'.
    That about sums up this week. Rain, traffic jams and incompetence. Incompetence? Surely not!

    Just yesterday on a stretch of Sihanouk Boulevard two squads of 8 police men each trying to apprehend everything evil passing, which seems to be everything with a motor and on two wheels. They were positioned on 2 busy intersections. Due to some poor macro-economic planning from Cambodia's chief of staff my journey coincided with a power cut rendering the brand new set of traffic lights useless. So traffic snarls up. And what do the police do? Nada! Not their problem.
  • The blame game continues, now (IRIN reports) the traffic deaths are due to 'rapid urbanization', as if safety issues are non-achievable. If this were the case then the most urban of countries would have the highest number of deaths, but that's not the case.
    'But even better roads create other problems, Duly [road safety adviser for Handicap International Belgium]contends.
    “Now people have wider, paved roads right outside the city, and they go even faster,” he told IRIN. “Speeding accounts for half of all fatalities.” Alleviating the number of fatalities, said Duly, means educating the population about road safety and encouraging police to enforce traffic laws.

    Another priority is making sure the Ministry of Public Works and Transport has the capacity to gather and analyse traffic data. Handicap International gave more than 100 GPS detectors and data-gathering tools to the police to improve the mapping of accident trends.

    “It's very important they have these tools to look at accidents,” said Sem Panhavuth, who manages road safety data for Handicap International. “So far they haven't been able to analyse much where accidents are happening or where they might occur.”'
    So clearly HIB doubt whether the traffic police can add up. Instead they even need GPS to note the places where accidents happens. What happened to old-fashion methods of reporting where the accident took place and putting pins on a map. You could even digitize the reports, but all can be done without GPS. Wasting money?
    Then the reality:
    'Cambodian police officers regularly abuse traffic laws in favour of government and business elites, drivers claim.

    “Any time there's a motorbike or car accident, the more powerful person gets his way,” said Sok Chesda, a motorbike taxi driver in Phnom Penh. “Usually we don't even call the police, but just leave the scene if a rich person hits us, even if they are at fault.”

    When a traffic accident means injury or damage to a vehicle, the two sides negotiate a price and settle on who should pay — usually the party with fewer government connections, a group of taxi drivers said.

    Police in Phnom Penh are, nonetheless, minimally involved in traffic enforcement. Instead of enforcing crucial laws against speeding, drunk driving, or wearing helmets, they focus on “easier” regulations like rear-view mirrors and licence plates, Duly said.

    “It's good they're enforcing those types of laws too, but we're really urging them to recognise the importance of stopping speeders and drunk drivers.”

    However, according to Sok: “If the police stop me for speeding or anything, I'll just give them 2,000 riels [US$0.50] and continue driving,” he said.'
    Just yesterday a person Crossing Cambodia knows was asked to pay 50$ for no apparent infringement!
  • Then again it's not always clear how traffic safety issues work. From the NZ Herald no less, an image of Thailand:

  • A couple of weeks ago, a mention of a Phnom Penh cyclists club, this time a Vespa scooter club. Sopach adds an up date. The objective: '
    'To travel countryside and to make friends'.
    Accompanied by Vespa mechanic!
  • And what's the reality out of PP? Kampuchea Crossings (like the name) highlight the lack of development in Kampot province.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Chasing Cars, 6 September, 2008

Is there much to mention? Not really.

For those of you paying attention to your fellow road users, you may have noticed this week how wearing a helmet and having mirrors on your moto has suddenly become popular. Earlier in the week, helmet wearing percentages were roughly 10 - 20%, by yesterday these have shot up to 40-50%. The same applies for mirrors, from a hardly noticeable 5-10%, yesterdays numbers were 40-50%. At the same time, police razzia's haven't increased much, so possibly our fellow-moto's know something we ignorants don't?

Then again in the past we've seen these percentages spike, only to drop a few weeks later, when the police are up to something more interesting.

  • The previously mentioned taxi service is getting off to a good start, so writes Cambodge Soir (16 August, where has CC been?):
    'The Sino-Khmer joint venture is transporting between 200 and 300 customers a day'.
    For just 12 cars, that means 15-25 customers per day, certainly encouraging. Luckily the article also clarifies what a taxi service is:
    'This taxi company is a Sino-Khmer joint venture. Its particularity: each vehicle is equipped with a taxi meter'.
    And then a free philosophical questions as final statement:
    'It is now the question whether this company will succeed. Six months ago, a Vietnamese company offering a similar service closed down. A few years ago, the public bus service launched by the government ended as a total failure. A sign of how difficult it is for the Cambodians to change their transportation habits. Indeed, how can one compete against the string of motodops and tuk-tuks which are available at every street corner?'
  • Khmer 440 is always on top of everything topical: servicing waterlogged moto's
    'I went home and street 13 was so flooded my bike got submerged'.
    A sign of the times?
  • As if Thailand isn't falling apart already some sneaky figures have been carting off some of Thailand's best moto's to .... Cambodia! Hardly newsworthy, but Thai police with nothing else to do have been putting a halt to this. Tough luck Cambodia.
  • Last week we focused on an imaginative tale published in Thailand, this week's fairy tale comes from the US. Once upon a time there was ... Sihanoukville:
    Australian-owned guesthouses line its streets'
    Then Phnom Penh:
    'Muddy Toyota Land Cruisers with Croix Rouge [Red Cross] logos have morphed into Lexus SUVs. Thai-style tuk-tuks - three-wheeled open taxis - have invaded. Ambitious office buildings are being added to the skyline'.
    Office buildings? Where? Thai-style tuk-tuks? The PP tuk-tuks are inherently Cambo-bred.
    Going to Kep?
    'The route through Phnom Penh's dusty suburbs, past garment factories and swarms of Khmer schoolchildren in uniform, seemed to take forever. But we eventually wound south on two-lane National Route 3, traversing the monotone Cambodian plain. Only as the temperature dipped and we approached the coastal mountains did the scenery gain intrigue, just as the paved road ended for a bone-jarring 20-mile-drive to the outskirts of Kep'.
    As compared to
    'Bokor Hill Station, perched at an elevation of 3,500 feet at the end of a bone-jarring 26-mile ride'.
    Basically if you read this article, do you recognize it? Or has some editor brought in some 'finishing' touches?

Has anyone noticed that street 51 is disappearing before our eyes? Beware of the stick!(Near Elsewhere)

The place to be? 'The Place' a posh new fitness / Chinese restaurant / sky bar / dentist (the latter is just a rumour) has opened up just beyond Independence monument on Sihanouk Blvd. Despite claims that it's the place to be, the owners are either expecting tough times or are ignorant, as they have only 6 parking spots. Let's see how they tackle this.
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