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?
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