Crossing Cambodia

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another post Khmer New Year Chasing Cars section

Traffic related press coverage has been decreasing, at least that's what seems to be the case. However Khmer New Year has resulted in a rash of articles, concerning the need for safety, the need to get out of town and the need to expect delays.

Personally, Crossing Cambodia once more went up country, to Stung Treng and Ratanakiri provinces. The road north out of Phnom Penh until Kampong Cham is patchy: they're working on the road just over the bridge. Beyond Snoul, the road opens up and especially the last stretch of road from Stung Treng northwards, the road is great. Though, this being a new road, one would not expect deterioration to be setting in, so soon.

The road to Ratanakiri is a different story. It's not black-topped and has severe problems after rainfall. Closer to Banlung it gets worse after rainfall. Surprisingly, other roads fanning out from Banlung are ok and the road to Vietnam is getting a major overhaul.

What surprised me most was the fact that helmets are now commonplace everywhere in Cambodia by the looks of it. Even in Ratanakiri. On the highways helmet compliance was nearly 80%!

The rash:
  • With Khmer New Year just passed, officials have already decided that it was much better than last year. Today's (20 April, 2009) Phnom Penh Post reports that
    'Accidents down during New Year'.
    In Phnom Penh there were apparently just 4 dead (last year 8?). And to whom the credit?
    "Now Cambodian people have learned more about road accidents," Hem Ya, the deputy of the traffic police in Phnom Penh, said on Sunday.'
    CC believes that the worldwide financial meltdown may have more to do with this drop (if it is a drop)
  • A case in point from the 'celebration' of Cambodia's Road Safety Week:
    'According to our yearly data, traffic accidents have been increasing by 15 percent every year'.
    Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhayly adds:
    "The main cause of traffic accidents is people themselves. They don't respect traffic laws, they speed, they show negligence and drink while driving. I want to suggest to all relevant ministries and authorities taking actions on a serious scale to punish these road-rule offenders," he said'.
    Yeah right, the general public are to blame for low law enforcement.
  • Khmer New Year is also an occasion to celebrate the poor infrastructure situation. Going south and west out of the city are no problems, going north and east are, as there are only two bridges. The east route though got a shot in the arm apparently:
    'Technicians and engineers have been working around the clock to complete construction of the new Monivong Bridge by Thursday's target date so as to accommodate the increase in traffic expected for the Khmer New Year, officials said'.
    The new Monivong bridge getting a finishing touch?

    Unfortunately though the bottleneck is elsewhere: an estimated 10,000 motorbikes and 6,000 cars were backed up for more than 4 kilometres, waiting hours in the heat to cross the Mekong River towards Prey Veng province.
  • In the never ending series of who's up next, Phnom Penh drivers will now be speed tested and breathalyzed! Despite the law enforcers even unable to catch motorcyclists without helmets or drivers licence or no licence plate, the technical route seems to have been take:
    "Speed cameras are very important because they can photograph the offender, the place, time, the speed, the number plate and the vehicle colour," said the country's Deputy National Police Chief Ouk Kimlek on Tuesday'.
    Consider the law, art. 17:
    'The driving speeds of vehicles are defined in accordance with the conditions as follows:
    1. The driving speeds for vehicles in general:
    A. In towns:
    - The drivers of all motorcycles and tricycles must drive in the maximum speed of 30 km per hour
    - The drivers of all kinds of cars must drive in the maximum speed of 40 km per hour.'
    That means many culprits. 30 km an hour is hardly faster than my push bike! Mind you if you are caught driving twice the speed limit, the fine is just $3. The law also stipulates the legal requirements for alcohol, though it also notes that using mobile phones while driving is forbidden as well as driving on the left hand side of the road. $3 is again enough to buy yourself freedom. Or ignorance.

    By the way, everybody who hangs out their (clean) laundry will be in line for a fine:
    'hanging clothes to dry along sidewalks and house balconies must end.
    However, this habit is well ingrained among numerous residents. The lack of education, as well as the poverty suffered by numerous families, will probably hamper this desire to embellish the city'.
  • Andy also has his take on this:
    'The helmet law, for moto-drivers only whilst passengers are not required to wear them, remains in place but revenue from fines is down as the police decide standing on the side of the road to stop motos in the hot weather of April isn't such a good idea after all. When the weather cools a bit, the police will be back out in force, also equipped with brand-new speed cameras and breathalyzers I hear'.
  • What Andy doesn't know is that there is a new way of dealing with no helmets and daytime heat:
    'Phnom Penh traffic police have begun to enforce the wearing of helmets after dark, said city officials, who say the lack of nighttime patrols had promoted reckless and illegal driving'.
    So are lack of nighttime patrols to blame? Mea Culpa?
    Battambang though is doing it the hard way:
    'Battambang Traffic Police chief Sath Kimsan said barely a third of drivers wore helmets at night. "At nighttime, only 20 percent to 30 percent of people wear helmets because they don't see the police standing along the road," he said.
    "I haven't taken any measures to enforce the wearing of helmets at night yet. I want to enforce them during the day until 100 percent are complying, and then I will work hard for nighttime enforcement."
    Yeah, right, 100%.
  • Talking about push-bikes, Khmer 440 forum members can not be persuaded to use these in Phnom Penh:
    'Bicycle is good
    Motor Bike is Good
    Small Car is Good
    Big Car is Better

    Bicycle Vrs Motor Bike = Bad Bicycle
    Bicycle Vrs Small Car = Bad Bicycle
    Bicycle Vrs Big Car = Very Bad Bicycle

    Bicycle always lose.'
  • Concerning the same forum: Chuangt2u suggests making a DVD of street scenes in Phnom Penh so as to
    'record a little lunacy for posterity or to amuse the folks back home'.
    Replies vary:
    'Im up for this. Why dont you want any blood and guts though? Im thinking flipped trucks, crashed motos, and other such footage will be prime viewing...'
    ... yes, possible the traffic police could use it for their new direction (see above).
    'I just had a look through an old clip I have of the junction of 63 and Sihanouk. The properties tab tells me it was taken on Sunday the 16th of October 2005, at 9:21pm. It runs for 5 mins and 28 seconds and caught 6 red light cycles. The quality is low as it was taken with a digital camera, but I counted:

    Running a red light = 122 road users

    Driving the wrong way down a 1 way street (st63) = 44 road users

    Using a vehicle with no visible lights = 50 people - around half of them riding bicycles

    "Illegal" u-turn = 1

    Unsurprisingly hesitant pedestrian trying to cross the road under a red light = 1'
  • Though it may have been a relative accident free Khmer New Year, the Phnom Penh Post (14 April) confuses us:
    'Motorbike Market Crashed
    "In the first three months of last year, I sold about 300 motorcycles, but during the first quarter of this year, only 80 motorcycles have been sold," Hang Heng, a motorcycle dealer in Chamkarmon district, said'.
    Poor thing.
  • Another mind boggling PPP article, this time on taxi / bus prices:
    'Despite officials' efforts to discourage taxi drivers and bus companies from inflating fees during Khmer New Year, several interviewed by the Post said they had no intention of passing on the opportunity to make extra dollars.
    But he [Phnom Penh Governor] said City Hall would not punish those who raise prices. "This is not a legal directive," he said.
    "City Hall has to inform taxi owners every year".
    So if you inform them every year and they still raise the prices why do you continue? Taxi driver logic:
    'Chhay Veth, who drives a taxi between Phnom Penh and Battambang province, said he believed fares would increase by 10 to 20 percent during the holiday, adding that customers expected fee inflation because it happened every year'.
    What if I expect prices to go down? Ten-twenty percent sounds doable but:
    'He [taxi driver] said most drivers on that route would increase prices from 17,000 riels (US$4.09) to 25,000 riels'.
    That's nearly 50%! Forget Somali pirates, think Cambodia pirates.
  • More bad economic news. The World Bank are now tabbing tuk-tuk driver incomes:
    'And still, we have data showing a sharp decline in the revenue of tuk-tuk drivers'.
    Last year inflation figures couldn't be produced, but they can tab tuk-tuk driver incomes?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Chasing Cars, 6 April 2009

Sticking your neck out? It's common knowledge that to do so in Cambodia, is to risk revenge. On my blog, I have no problems in criticizing poor policies, poor law enforcement, poor politicians. But singling out individuals? Or institutes? That's .... different.
  • However Paul has no such qualms. Frustrated at the injustice he complained in the Phnom Penh Post (April 1, 2009) and even mentioned the offenders license plate! Hurrah! '
    The group [Three silver vehicles - all sporting Royal Cambodian Armed Forces licence plates. Two were four-wheel drive saloons, and the third was a four-wheel drive pickup truck] purchased tickets, and all three RCAF-plated vehicles drove down the wrong side of the road and took up positions at the front of the queue. As a result, the eighth and ninth cars in our group were forced to miss the ferry when it finally arrived.
    Surely the vehicle bearing the licence plate RCAF 23607 and the two other vehicles have no right in times of peace to behave in such an arbitrary fashion, showing absolutely no respect for their fellow citizens.
    The time has come for the use of RCAF number plates to be reviewed, as is the case with the police. What are such plates doing on fancy four-wheel drives? They should be confined to purely military vehicles that are conducting military business, not military families on private jaunts'.
    My only question: was this article placed as a April fools joke? However that doesn't seem to be the case. On KI Media there were no less than 22 comments added, some of which had comparable experiences.
  • Despite aforementioned being above the law, besides their license plates, they will probably also be recognisable by their lack of helmets. Let's hope Darwins laws apply here!
    'Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday requested that traffic police continue the enforcement of a new law requiring motorbike drivers to wear protective helmets. "When I take the car, I see many motorbike drivers not wearing helmets, so please continue educating people about wearing helmets in order to protect their lives," he said during the inauguration of the Hun Sen Quay in Preah Sihanouk province'.
    Education or law enforcement?
  • Law enforcement? Phnom Penh Confidential shares his experiences of the law enforcement in practice:
    ' "License. You need to have license." Didn't have it with me but told him [policeman], "I have license in my house." Again he says, "License." And again I reply, "I have my house. You come with me and I will show you my license." We go back and forth on this one a few times.
    He finally decides to try "hat" again. And I am ready to pay 2,000 so I ask him how much he wants for no hat. The bossman sitting under the umbrella speaks up and says, "Sir, go on." And off I go'.
  • Khmer New Year is just around the corner. If not having a military license plate expect long waits when heading east.
    'Official says holiday travellers could face 5-hour delays at Neak Leung ferry'.
  • Are boats in Cambodia safe?
    '"We were crammed with 100 others onto a tiny boat - the boat was about 3 metres wide - the top deck, which is where we were, you were sat on the top of the boat (no seats) - it was similar size to a narrow boat in the UK (although maybe slightly longer)- there were so many people on board you couldn't move - after 7 hours (we were running late!)of sitting in the same position it was just too much.Around the sides of the boat is no rail - just a 35cm walkway. There was not a life boat, or even belt, in sight.We felt ourselves burning and tried to move inside but that was also crammed - we couldn't get in.
    When you see the pictures of the boats, they all look great - big boats, comfortable seats etc - this is not the case - DO NOT BE FOOLED.
    When we showed our photos of the boat to the receptionist in the hotel in Siem Reap she was shocked - she sells the tickets (but shows the picture of a luxury boat) - she was totally unaware of what the boat is really like!!"
  • KFC is becoming increasingly common in Cambodia. From came this great advertising ploy. KFC goes into potholes:

    Well, there's enough opportunity for that in Cambodia!
  • Statistics. Handicap International Belgium and the Cambo government are at odds concerning last years data. But not to mind:
    ' ''Despite those discrepancies, both government and HIB statistics indicate the country 's road are growing safer, an least in terms of fatalities. Barring a surge in casualties when figures are available for December,it is unlikely HIB's 2008 figures will match 1545 deaths recorded nationwide by the group in 2007'.
    Good news or not?
  • More roads are good for the economy. But not so good for nearby residents:
    'Homes and fences belonging to residents of Teuk Thla and Phnom Penh Thmey communes in Sen Sok district were demolished by Phnom Penh authorities on Monday to make way for a road expansion project, with witnesses reporting that hundreds of armed police were deployed in the action'.
  • First hand experience of passing a Khmer driving test, published in the Phnom Penh Pocketguide:
    'I was then ordered to sit at a desk made for an under six-year-old child in a room covered in propaganda posters condemning drinking while driving or having six cows too many in your truck. I was with a crowd of people who were also being tested. It was as though we were filling out a prison form.
    The first question went something like: if a wild Mongolian hare is running at a speed of 16km per hour that is being chased by a golden eagle flying at 25km per hour with only 1.096712km separating them, how long will it take for the eagle to catch the hare? It seemed unreal at the time and I just stared at each question not knowing if I should even attempt to answer them. Maybe it was a joke.
    a military officer walked up to me, asked me with a sheepish grin if I knew the answer, then swiped the paper off my desk and vanished. I followed him until I lost him in a crowd of yelling people outside the reception office.
    Worried this might turn into a scam to get money from me in order to finish the “free” test, I started asking questions of anyone looking like they worked at the ministry. Finally I received a useful answer. “Ah. Your Khmer isn’t perfect so the answers will be put on the test for you. Just have a seat and relax.”
    he escorted me into the transportation office where I was greeted by the minister himself and given a glass of water. We had a pleasant conversation and I answered all the usual questions asked to a Khmer-speaking foreigner. Twenty or so minutes passed while we chatted away and, before I knew it, I was being wished good luck as a new driver and handed my temporary driver’s licence with the promise I’d get the plastic one in a fortnight. I was ready to hit the streets'.

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