Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chasing Cars, 28 August 2009

With the false belief that law is being successfully enforced, after mirrors (not used), safety helmets (saving the motorists from themselves) and licensing (adding more cash to the government coffers), seat belts are now on the radar:
'Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema has instructed municipal officials to begin informing drivers about the importance of wearing seatbelts, adding that those who fail to do so will soon be forced to pay fines under the Land Traffic Law'.
Whatever happened to enforcing the law? How about the multitude of transport craft that ignore stop-lights, drive on the wrong way or park willy-nilly?
The police though see this latest issue as a challenge:
'Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said car drivers were generally less likely than motorbike drivers to listen to instructions from police officers, though he said police would still work to "educate them about wearing seatbelts".'
Oh, and by the way sidewalk vendors are
also on the way out:
'Over the next two weeks, Phnom Penh municipal authorities say they will attempt to raise awareness of a ban on sidewalk vendors in the run-up to more stringent enforcement of this provision of the Land Traffic Law'.
Keyword attempt.
Anyway this time the excuse is to reduce congestion. My idea is that if you get everyone to adhere to traffic lights, you'll be making great strides, but if enforcing seat belt wearing is challenge then enforcing stopping for a red light might be asking for too much ....

More from Phnom Penh and Cambodia's crazy world of traffic:
  • The Khmer 440 forum continues in much the same vein. The front page article
    'Common sense has lost the building'
    is reposted on the forum and elicits some response.
    In general, it laments how the government can outlaw tuk-tuks from one of Phnom Penh's major boulevards (but by far not the busiest) by arguing that this results in less congestion.
    'The only traffic jams I've seen on Norodom have been at "rush hour", and have been caused by virtually every road user displaying an utter lack of the ability to queue or wait, drifting across lanes, using the wrong approach lane for a right or left turn, joining traffic by creeping toward moving vehicles, and a fair proportion of people driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid said creepers and narrowing the carriageway - particularly at junctions. Surely if I can see that, the planners can too?'.
    Curiously is this message, all too typical of Cambodian law enforcement:
    'A female Khmer friend of mine was pulled over on Norodom last night because her moto mirrors were "too small". They demanded 10,000r or the bike would be impounded'.
    The law states no details concerning the size wing mirrors, it's just a case of petty extortion.
  • Reports in the Phnom Penh Post on riots concerning enforcing (parts of) the traffic law. Apparently motorists are up in arms because they bought moto's on the cheap. Apparently they were illegally imported and now the government is (after decades of neglect) after the import duties.
    '"We did not want to make trouble for the police. We just wanted to send a message to the government to reduce the cost of motor taxes," Vor Vorn said. The demonstrations followed a directive issued earlier this month by Prime Minister Hun Sen ordering provincial police across the Kingdom to collect motor taxes in accordance with Cambodia's Land Traffic Law'.
    Times are a changing it seems, but the protesters may well have a point:
    '... authorities should blame themselves for not cracking down sooner on those who import motorbikes without paying the necessary taxes'.
    KI Media also reports on the 'riots' but from Banteay Meanchey. Here arrest swere made:
    'Two persons were arrested by police after they burnt down car tires and safety helmets'.
    Burning safety helmets is an offense in Cambodia?
  • From the Cambodia Mirror, a report from the local press. Who needs law enforcement when this is the law enforcer?
    '... the driver of the car that rolled over the guard and killed him is Chan Saroeun, a lieutenant-colonel, and deputy chief of staff of the [Phnom Penh] Municipal Police.
    However, the Prampi Makara district police could not detain him, because he is a high ranking official, and there was an intervention to release him, from a higher level, at that night. Those who knew him said that he is a high ranking official who is responsible for the enforcement of the traffic law'.
    His crime?
    '... a white Chevrolet with number plate 2K-6542 was driving very fast from the crossing at the water storage tower near the Olympic stadium towards the market called Phsar Depou, along the Jawaharlal Nehru road. Near the Atlantic coffee shop and hotel, the driver of the car lost control over it, as another car was driven backwards from that shop, causing that car to avoid it, but hitting a parking guard close by and push him onto the road. After hitting the guard, the offensive car [what about the driver?] did not stop, but accelerated and rolled over the guard and dragged him about 20 meters, and then the car drove away'.
  • A car made in Cambodia, running on solar energy was one of the subjects in the last CC. Now according to KI Media there is a car produced in Cambodia which
    'can open it's doors telepathically'.
    Is this a case of Lost in Translation?
  • Discussion at Expat Advisory concerning begging on the street:
    'the Monivong - Sihanouk intersection. I see kids there every day. I frequently see traffic cops there every day, in the shade near CD World.... Would it be a stretch to suggest the cops move the kids off the street? For their own safety?'
    Answers differ:
    • 'one of them almost gave me a bloody heart attack the other day when it was raining out. kid just popped out of nowhere and stuck his face on my car window. my driver immediately popped the locks and i just felt horrible trying to ignore the boy'.
    • 'one of the little boys tried to bite me last night as i was walking down sihanouk and refused to give him money/food'.
    • 'Oh my GOD this intersection is a nightmare! ... he started hitting the baby's head on the handle of my moto!'
    • 'The worst that happened to me on that corner was the small kid who picked up the rock the size of my fist and threatened me.
      Perhaps we could all march down to mr hun sens house in kandal and have a rally. Provided one takes the props like the huge framed photos of our beloved leader it sometimes produces results'.
    Key word sometimes.
  • The details are sketchy blog has a number of traffic related posts, but mostly with nothing to add. On parking:
    'The man ignored the shop owner’s request to move his vehicle. A stupid move, as he was to find out. (Nobody messes with the Siem Reap Book Centre … is this guy new in town?) Staff at the book shop returned with a piece of wood with nails stuck in it and started slamming the wood into his car'.
  • The roads around Siem Reap, an update posted on the Tales of Asia forum:
    • 'To Anlong Veng from SR, you're looking at about two hours now on a great new stretch of highway. ...
    • the highway is magnificent. SR to Sisophon is about an hour and half or so now. ...
    • a decent drive about 80 km from SR, but the road (especially after a rain) is not for hot-rodding [Koh Ker]'
  • More City Law. Sand and dirt trucks aren't allowed to cross the bridges to enter Phnom Penh. Is there already enough dirt in town?
    '"We think everyone should join with us and respect this new policy in order to reduce the number of road accidents, limit any further damage to municipal bridges and help keep the city clean," he said'.
    Huh? Just makes it more difficult to enter town thus in-official charges will rise to pass. Keep the city clean? Is it clean already then?
  • Filling the newspaper. Phnom Penh Post highlights what is believed to be Phnom Penh's only female moto-taxi. Crossing Cambodia can remember earlier articles on her, but can't find any links. Though the PPP
    'reveals how difficult it is to be a woman in a male-dominated world',
    most of the article reveals nothing whatsoever.
  • It's a well-known fact that due to the poor railway service in Cambodia, peole nearly live on the rails themselves. With an upgrade on the way, the encroachers will be pushed back.
    '"My house will be impacted once they begin clearing away the land 3.5 metres on either side of the tracks," she said. "I am not against this plan, but authorities should think about how to compensate us fairly."
    As it is state owned land in the first place, Crossing Cambodia believes somehow that the line of thought will be a boot up the backside.
  • If all fails, we can always rely on FCC. The problem as described in the Expat Advisory forum:
    'Is it beyond the FCC's abilities to remove these aggressive nuisances [tuk-tuk drivers]?
    Surely a friendly local policeman could be 'persuaded' to move them to a safe distance?'
    Possibly it is beyond FCC, there are nearly 10-20 guys posted there all day. Friendly local policeman? Surely not available! Answers vary from:
    'smile and say 'No thankyou, I have a driver'
    'I hate the scumbags,they park or double park every where restricting access for pedestrians and those trying to park cars and actually spend money'.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chasing Cars, mid-August 2009

Imposing the law? According to their own claims
'more than 60,000 vehicles have been temporarily impounded'.
That seems a bit unlikely, even logistically. Lost in translation possibly?
'Hem Ya, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Police Commissariat, said that vehicles have been held in order to educate owners who break the law. "I think that so far, 80 percent of Cambodian people respect the traffic law" '.
Well, wake up call. If that is respect then come again. Nowhere in Cambodia are 80% of the people respecting the law! On a good day you might see 50-60% wearing helmets nowadays, but that's common sense, it's not respect for the law. Respect for the law is having a license, stopping at stop signs, not cutting off other road users, not running red lights, not driving on the wrong side of the road, not cutting corners, not driving and using phone, etc., etc.

Well, let's hope there's better things to report on this week.
  • Ban the poor souls!
    'I’m sure that it’ll be a great consolation to both tourists and tuk tuk drivers that their ban from Norodom Boulevard in the latest lunatic edict from the madcap and increasingly nagging world of City Hall, will ‘prevent traffic jams.’ As it happens, traffic jams caused by groups of people being efficiently and economically ferried around by tuk tuks happen, in my own humble experience, to be somewhere in the region of nil. Whereas, expats across the blogsphere (myself included), have been banging on for years about the exponential increase in the number of fatass, luxury SUVS blocking up the city’s streets - and something tells me that these black steel panthers may have more of a causal relationship with these traffic jams than the humble tuk tuk. The problem is as clear as a bell to me'.
  • If some readers (and authorities, see above) believe that Phnom Penh is congested, wait til you see Vientiane:
    'A massive increase in new vehicles is giving Vientiane commuters a headache as peak hour traffic snarls affect transportation across the city'.
    Vientiane Times has us believe the Lao capitol is in the same league as Saigon, Djakarta and Bangkok! What distinguishes Vientiane from Phnom Penh is the solution sought:
    'Minister of Public Works and Transport, Mr Sommath Pholsena said his ministry would focus on promoting and improving public transport as a way to address traffic congestion in the capital'.
  • Koh Kong is Cambodia's wild west?
    'The driver swerved and the back end started to slide out. Shards of rock and rubble started bouncing loudly off the under-carriage, people started screaming, but by some small miracle, the driver managed to recover from the swerve and we didnt end up in the dirt ditch at the side of the road, taking a dirt nap. About 150 meters down the road (in the middle of nowhere), I see a gang of young Khmer men waiting on their motorbikes, scrutinising the bus (for damage I’m guessing?) and looking back at the debris from the smashed boulder, a few with very disappointed looks on their faces and a few others laughing their fucking heads off at our near death experience. By the time we got to the border I couldnt help feeling a bit more cynical and wondering how long it would of taken for the bus to get looted if we had of rolled? What's the value of the contents of a tourist bus these days? a couple of hundred dollars per head, 30+ people, $4-5K? A fair days take for a gang of trainee motodups, id say? I wish I could say this is my only bad experience on Cambodian Buses'.
    You mean there are worse?
  • Odd law enforcement in Sihanoukville. The street determines what the license fee shall be.
    'According to a representative of the drivers, the temporary solution provided by provincial office was that motorcycles not bearing any license plate will not be confiscated'.
    The same in Banteay Meanchey? And what are we talking about?
    'a deputy provincial governor, warned that officials would not be able to reduce the fee, which could be as high as $200. "If we were to reduce it, it would have too large an impact on the national budget," he said'.
    The national budget in ruins? Is there a national budget?
  • A non-report?
    'Prices at petrol stations climbed about 3 percent Wednesday, despite calls last week from Prime Minister Hun Sen for lower fuel costs, and petroleum officials said additional price spikes should be expected as world oil prices rise'.
    The PM can obliterate the opposition within 2 hours (he claims) but imposing the law on all is difficult as well as getting petrol companies to abstain from making a profit! Met his match?
  • The National Road Safety Committee claims that traffic injuries are dropping in Phnom Penh. The Phnom Penh Post copies these claims.
    'Traffic injuries in Phnom Penh decreased by 55 percent from May 2008 to May 2009'.
    55% is a low! But he! Crossing Cambodia swept through the May 2008 and May 2009 reports. Causalities in May 2008 in Phnom Penh: 139 (source (PDF)). May 2009: 219 (source). An increase of 57%! That's just plain poor reporting.
    'Though crashes and total casualties in Cambodia decreased compared with May 2008 by 13 percent each, fatalities saw a 12 percent increase'.
    The reason for this drop in casualties?
    'Ung Chun Hour, director of the NSRC, said that enforcement of the Land Traffic Law - which requires motorbike drivers to wear helmets, among other regulations - is the most likely source of this decline in road injuries'.
    Get real, the probable cause is poor reporting. Dying on the road is increasing despite more helmets, that's the message.
  • Headline from KI Media which must have come as a rude wake up call for the Cambodian government: New Railroads cost Money! An odd comment from an Australian business person:
    'it certainly will increase traffic on the rails because road transport as we know is very expensive and considerably dangerous, considering the safety aspects on the roads here," Mayes said'.
    The Phnom Penh Post (18 August 2009) might have a solution, by way of the magical words
    'additional funding'.
    ADB Daydreaming:
    ' "It makes Cambodia the hub of transportation between China and Singapore, and you would have a port link, you would have a link to Thailand, you'll have a link through to Vietnam, and the implications for that, for Cambodia in the region, are that Cambodia becomes the hub".'
    A port and a rail road mean nothing.
Law enforcement at night, a novelty? 'Drink and drive enforcement'

  • Seldom are we treated to the details of a traffic accident. Apparently if the victim is a relative of someone important then that changes things.
    'Yont Thauron, the son of Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yont Tharo, was shot after his car was involved in a minor traffic accident while returning from a wedding'.
    Though not necessarily packed with details, the Khmer 440 Forum for once provides us with more:
    'From the unsubstantiated rumour department...we took a tuk-tuk last night near the monument and the word according to him was that some rich guy's kid had a minor scrape with a moto around the Monument. The moto was at fault, apologized and swore he'd pay for the damage (how, who knows?). But the kid told him he'd pay at the hospital in blood after he was done kicking the crap out of him. Whereupon the moto guy pulled a gun and shot him'.
    Just a rumuor. It does appear there are different versions of the same story. Phnom Penh Post:
    'Witnesses at the crime scene said that after the traffic accident, Yont Thauron and his friends exited their vehicle and ordered the motorbike drivers around them to kneel down and apologise, leading to a furious argument'.
    Anyway the eventualities are clear, 1 dead, a couple of wounded and 1 poster banned from Khmer 440 forum. Will we ever find out the truth?
    'I'm not saying that the stories aren't true, I do not know if they are or if they aren't, but it just doesn't sound like him. Again, thank you everybody for you condolences'.
  • Humour from NZ:
    'Mel writes: "Just before our departure - for the practical test of my full driver's licence - the instructor asked me to test the horn to make sure it worked. Knowing full well that the horn did not work, I turned my head to the right and let out a vocal 'hooonk'. He replied, unconvinced, 'What was that?' I told him it was my car's horn. He dryly noted that he hoped my driving was better than my honking ... I passed no problem."
    Probably would not get a pass in Cambodia; tsss... a car with no horn!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Chasing Cars. What? It's August already?

Skipped a months worth of posting so you might expect a lot to have happened in the meantime, which in a sense is true, though it's not so obvious. So let's get started:

In the past month the local strongman has been using his power to pressure all those with a differing view. However despite announcing that's he's had enough of the traffic anarchy, controlling the population as a whole is a entirely different thing. The PM thought confiscating all and sundry (i.e. those without side mirrors or moto's without helmet clad drivers) will cower the populace into submission. But alas as always, the enforcers all work once a week and by now everyone is back to the ago-old Cambodian custom of driving hither and nither.

Another important occurence is that the country has it's own airline, called Cambodiaangkorair (CAA for short) which sort of covers the subject. However the Cambodian government owns only half of the part that makes the profit. Problem though is that it's totally controlled by Vietnamese, their aircraft, their crews, so Crossing Cambodia doubts whether it will make a profit. Better to keep the fees high than produce a profit which needs to be shared. Wonder if the bright guys thought of that before?
The CAA route map though looks a bit weak, most flights are between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, how is that to serve the country by generating more passengers? The connecting flights section is actually a copy of Vietnam Airlines flights from Hanoi, to which the new carrier does not fly.
If the Cambodians are really serious they should ask Air Asia or the likes to open up routes to the northeast. With good opportunities in place to Singapore, Malaysia and Bangkok, creating more options to Hanoi (direct flight?), Hong Kong, Taiwan as well as seeking new sources of tourists from South / East China and central Vietnam is what's required. More info, here, here and here.

Subjects with less coverage / importance:
  • Elsewhere tuk-tuks are coming into the spotlight for law enforcement apparently. There are roads and other roads where only tuk-tuks may not drive. Why?
    'They say we are anarchic and cause disorder in the city'.
    If that's the scale to measure, then everyone can start packing! And are they safe?
    'But the presence of tuk-tuks on the roads also adds to the chaos of traffic in Phnom Penh. Their large size makes them difficult to navigate, and some are obviously not built with safety in mind - such as those with very thin metal bars to support their back seats, which can be dangerous for larger passengers. Some tuk-tuks are powered by very weak and old motorbikes that cannot effectively transport heavy passengers and goods, leading to awkward turns that obstruct traffic.
    'Letter to the editor. Nice people?
    'Too many of the drivers aggressively hassle expats and tourists alike, not only with entreaties to take one to the Killing Fields, but also trying to push drugs and prostitution. Many also deliberately obstruct junctions, making it very difficult for pedestrians to make headway'.
    Letter to the editor.
  • Fuel prices are also under investigation ('to reconsider price hike', please).
  • Airport in Sihanoukville to open? Not yet, as Nicolas Sarkozy wants to do it himself, seeing that it was him who made the thing.... ,not. He's expected to arrive in November. No new flights either ...
  • All the law enforcing, has not resulted in less deaths. Cambodian logic:
    'Even though we have breath analysis machines, the number of accidents still increases'.
  • Roads from China? Meant is money from China, roads to ...?
    'The gratitude of the Royal Government and the Cambodian people toward the government of the People’s Republic of China, a great and long term close friend'.
    All the way back to the Khmer Rouge times ....
  • Priceless? Mastercard and Hotel de la Paix are donating push bikes to students in Siem Reap.
  • Road tax to be paid! Vehicles excluded are:
    'ambulances and fire trucks; vehicles belonging to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, the military police and the police; any vehicles used for national defence or security; and diplomatic or consular vehicles'.
    What's left?
  • Cambodia's car industry takes off!
    'former math and physics teacher from Kampong Chhnang province, uses his knowledge to successfully come up with a solar-energy-powered car'.
  • Expatadvisory's Phnom Penh forum has an article on child beggers on the street:
    'Which brings me to the Monivong - Sihanouk intersection. I see kids there every day. I frequently see traffic cops there every day, in the shade near CD World. ... Would it be a stretch to suggest the cops move the kids off the street? For their own safety?'
  • More from the same forum. This time it's Phnom Penh's biggest mall, which is in for flak:
    'A Khmer friend left her moto & helmet there [Sorya] this week. When she came back they gave her her moto - but not her helmet.'
    The gist:
    'The car park attendants at Sorya are well know thieves'.
    Then the Lucky gets brought into the discussion:
    'The parking system at Lucky Sihanouk is far superior, but I still cringe at being charged to use a supermarket car park'.
    That's what you get when there's no competition ...
  • People say Phnom Penh is safe, others deny, however after dark beware:
    'an English national is in stable condition at Calmette Hospital after being shot twice during a robbery outside his home near Russian Market early Sunday morning. Assailants shot Mark Fitzpatrick, age unknown, in the back and chest and stole his motorbike around 1:30am, according to police'.
    The discussion continues:
    'Don't tell me... this guy got here about six months ago and is calling himself an expat. I've had 3 friends "killed" here since '02. I've had dozens of friends get their motorcycles stolen.
    Foreigners have been getting knifed, conked over their heads, robbed, drugged, mugged, raped, swindled, shot, for as long as I can recall in Cambodia.'.
    That sort of sums up Phnom Penh's threats.
  • Asialife focuses on Vespa's in Phnom Penh. Only for enthusiasts.
  • Strongman not so in control, blames his underlings for failures:
    'Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen also repeated his previous recommendation to look at the roads. Samdech explained, ‘When I say again to look at the roads, that means: first, there must not be illegal check-points along the roads, and second, if the road is damaged, it must be repaired'.
  • Kampot is getting sidewalks, according to Stan:
    'the riverside greenstrip is being completely redone. It compares favorably to its seedy, unkempt, grassy past, but it’s really not to my taste, since it’s nearly all pavement. The paving blocks are very nice and since there is no sidewalk on the river side of the street it’ll definitely come in handy for walkers.
    In practice, many people will probably continue walking in the street purely out of habit. I was at an outdoor table on Sisowath recently and saw a lot of people walking on the street even though the sidewalk was largely clear and usable. Some, the Barangs especially, seemed very uncomfortable with vehicles passing by them so closely and sometimes speedily but still didn’t think to move over to the sidewalk. I guess people have become so used to walking in the street the sidewalk just didn’t occur to them'.
    He also reveals why there are disabled ramps were built on Norodom:
    'Norodom, in fact, has gotten a lot worse with the disabled ramps that were recently installed. Now motorbikes have an easy way to use the sidewalk to avoid heavy traffic. They’ll come right at you expecting you to move out of their way. Hey Dude! This is the sidewalk UNDERSTAND - so have a little respect. I can definitely see the importance of society being more conscious of the needs of the handicapped, but in this case it didn’t work out very well, especially since it’s hardly ever used by the people it was intended to serve'.
    All in all a great entry on transportation in Cambodia.
  • With the railways nearing complete dereliction, it's astounding that there is still freight getting moved, though with a downward trend.
  • Car dealers are also feeling the pinch. The good news:
    'I am not that negative about the economy. As long as people have food to eat, there will be demand for cars.'
    Let's hope there will be no famine then.
  • Haze? Here in Phnom Penh?
    'Have you ever wondered how much time gets knocked off your life expectancy when you're stuck in Phnom Penh traffic, behind an antiquated truck spewing thick, black smoke into your face?'
    Find the answer in this Phnom Penh Post article.
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