Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chasing Cars, mid-June 2010

There we are thinking life had changed and traffic was not more on the (press) list and along come a number of interesting developments.
Prominent among them of course are the proposals to change Cambodia's traffic law.
Press focus on the increase on fines, the most obvious tactic to get traffic offenders to heel. But is it?

Some extracts of what the law can change:
'calls for the addition of two new articles and amendments to 24 of 95 pre-existing articles
If the new draft is approved, that fine will be increased to 21,000 riels (about $5), and will also be applied to passengers'.
Basically what the law is saying is that the height of the fine is the maximum amount traffic police can extort from offenders. What's more, the change leads to big discrepancies between offenses, how are the public to know what is the correct fee? As long as it's not transparent....

It also focuses on the cosmetic enforcement. If everybody has a helmet then does that make traffic law abided by? If anything far from it.
Law enforcement is mostly restricted to daylight, at nite nobody has a helmet. What's more certain officials are above the law or too poor to afford a helmet. Then the current traffic law has so much body, there's already so much to be done without changing the law. Wearing helmets the focus of current law enforcement protects current traffic users from themselves, what about the characters dodging red lights which is common more and more standard practice? Or using the phone while taking part in traffic. Or driving down the worng side of the road. Surely we would expect these enfringements of the current law to be tackled before adding another layer of rules which at best will be enforced haphazardly?

The HIB (Handicap International Belgium) are happy nonetheless, their focus is totally on helmets. Quote:
'"We would like the fines to be increased because, based on our experience and regional comparisons, higher fines mean people have more respect for the law, and this leads to fewer fatalities,” she said.
She added that high fines and strong enforcement in Vietnam have led to almost 100 percent compliance with helmet laws'.
So what about the strong enforcement? In Vietnam they drive like crazy, but not in the wrong direction nor do they dodge traffic lights.

And the existing law was mostly drawn up by NGO's ,the new amendments not. What to think of
'One of the two new articles included in the draft would require that drivers only operate vehicles registered in their own names ...'.
A lot of drivers and rental companies will be out of work!

Elsewhere a great article was published on the Guardian by Melody Kemp entitled
'Asia's silent victims of pollution and emissions'.
Focusing on Vientiane, Lao, she sets out to describe that traffic is becoming the number 1 life threatening source.
'Despite Harvard and the World Health Organisation (WHO) both insisting that road and occupational accidents look to outstrip infectious disease as the major causes of death and disability in the south, there is little evidence that donor agencies have shifted their priorities accordingly. Trauma medicine and rehabilitation centres remain rarities. Road and occupational deaths remain like wallpaper on the modernisation agenda: striking when first noticed, then increasingly invisible.
Visiting experts advocate rational and linear solutions. But in Asia, the cause and effect relationship is often non-rational. A Thai or Lao surviving a crash is more likely to erect a spirit house than reflect on the use of wing mirrors, or make merit at the temple rather than look before entering a stream of traffic. Passers-by may be reluctant to help a bleeding victim in case they "catch the lousy luck". These are factors that cannot be changed simply with asphalted roads or traffic lights. And infrastructure solutions, such as the new poorly designed major arterial through Vientiane, may actually raise accident rates by enabling greater speed. Systematic corruption, such as enabling a proxy to buy a driving licence, undermines progress. New wealth also enables new drivers to drive powerful cars such as a Maserati (along with Humvees, and Mercedes sports, which are increasingly popular) they are ill-equipped to handle'.
This and more, however as some commentators note the article is a little void of solutions. One comment does though look at Taipei:
'It can be reversed - Taipei, while still a polluted city, is vastly better than it was, mainly through actions designed to curb polluting engines and an emphasis on public transport. They've just finished a fantasic network of cycle paths to try to encourage people to get back to the bike - they even have TV ads encouraging people to cycle.
But the idea (possibly with some justification) that pollution and road deaths is just a price you pay to catch up with the west is very deeply embedded in the minds of most Asian policymakers. Maybe it doesn't have to be that way - but sadly nobody seems willing to take the risk of trying an alternative'.
An interesting read.

More mundane:
  • A Letter to the Editor of Phnom Penh Post earlier this month. A reader complains about the segmenting of Phnom Penhs roads which he believes impedes emergency vehicles.
  • More complaints on the same situation.
    'These [concrete barriers] seem to be aimed at ensuring Khmer drivers stay on the correct side of the road (which they should be doing by law anyway). However, in effect, they introduce a whole new range of problems.
    Emergency vehicles can get locked into these one-way “chutes”; In some cases they have blocked former cross streets, and now motor scooter drivers are coming down the wrong side of the barriers toward oncoming traffic.
    These barriers have only made already bad traffic far worse. When will town planners in Phnom Penh wake up, and where did they actually get these ideas from?
    If the police are going to fine people for anything, why not start with the basics of failing to stop at red lights, travelling on the wrong side of the road and not staying within your own lane'.
  • Then later a Letter on parking fees.
    'I regret that some people are affected by this measure, but they should be conscious that the space is for public, and not for personal use or business. The businesses and parking on the streets frequently create chaos and traffic jams'.
    Elsewhere the Post gives voice to the business community which are vehemently opposed. It will effect their biznesses. Yeah so that justifies stealing public property? Me, me, me ... Probably the whole episode is to placate the Japanese so they'll cough up more money for some bridge or another ...
Picture apparently taken in Hoi An, Vietnam.

  • Statistics are still all over the place. Some say accidents went down, now they are back up. HIB imply that speeding is major cause of accidents but helmets need to be worn ....
  • Phnom Penh Post has an article on cyclo's.
    '“I think that within 20 years cyclos will completely disappear. There are fewer and fewer, and profits are dropping,” he said. Pao Phearum said the challenges of being a cyclo driver include fatigue, competing with more modern forms of transportation like motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks, and having to pay money to security personnel or police to pick up customers'.
    True as it may seem, focusing on tourists may extend that lifeline. See many western cities now with cyclo services ...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Chasing Cars, more than 1 month later ....

I could start of this posting by offering my apologies for not posting for such a long time. But I'm not. Traffic wise there's simply so little to report on. It's been hot so not so much traffic. Everybody is being wearing helmets so no wacky government / law instructions on that. And it seems like everybody is content.
  • Starting with content. The
    'Bangkok/Siem Reap Overland Guide'
    has once more reinvented itself. Hardly any problems anymore with the road just with bus company rip offs and border problems. Why the bus companies and border officials can't solve this a la going to Vietnam is beyond me.
  • An aircraft has been sighted at Sihanoukville airport. That's a huge increase over the past years 0 aircraft.
  • Phnom Penh City is experimenting (on advice of the Japanese) with charging drivers for parking. Currently you are allowed to park virtually anywhere even to the extent of blocking traffic, who cares. The 'experiment' lasts a full week on a short stretch of inner city road. Wow!
    '...the point of the exercise, which runs through June 2, is to reduce the number of vehicles along Charles de Gaulle and discourage “anarchic parking”. Fees are being collected by Sky Security Service.
    Masato Koto, an urban planning consultant for the city who dreamed up the scheme, said his long-term vision was to restrict roadside parking along major thoroughfares to designated areas while imposing charges to drive down demand. By doing so, he said, officials could make Phnom Penh more pedestrian-friendly.
    “In other countries, sidewalks are only for pedestrians,” he said. “But Cambodia is different. Here sidewalks are for parking cars, so we have to change this characteristic.”'
    But the Cambodian side is already whining. Charges are too high. '
    Masato acknowledged that the charges had drawn criticism, but said they needed to be high in order to effectively deter parking.
    “If the cost is high, then people will no longer want to park here. That’s the point,” he said.
    “The number of cars is increasing every day, but the land in the city is limited, so we have to control the demand for parking.”'
    Yes, but now the rich dudes end up paying for something which was free. Where's the justice in this?
  • An article in the Phnom Penh Post presumably about a new bridge north of Phnom Penh across the Tonle Sap river. Content of the article is about the more than 200 lorries Cambodia gets from China packed with 50,000 free military uniforms. This in exchange for kicking out a couple of asylum seekers, it seems.
  • 'A weighty issue. A motodop driver and a security guard try to help a tuk-tuk laden with boxes of bottled water get back on its wheels at the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Street 214 last week'.
    Phnom Penh Post April 28, 2010.
  • A huge piece in the Phnom Penh Post concerning the history of Cambodia's rail network. Saturady 5 June will see the Chinese House Express, a 3 hour (or longer) trip north of Phnom Penh with a jazz concert in a rice paddy.
  • What's wrong with bus companies? They all suck?
  • A new piece of the Phnom Penh city has been revealed. Three of the 12 roads have been approved of this 'secretive' city expansion. Part of the plan will be a flyover for which some city citizens will have to move.
  • A miscreant in Siem Reap wants to sue the police because he failed to stop when required to do so by police. He was consequently hit on the head by traffic police with a walkie-talkie device so as to enforce the stop signal. It worked. He stopped and needed stitches. Miscreant claims expenses plus
    '$1,500 for mental illness compensation'.
    But arguably he was already mentally deranged before incident ....
  • Finally Monument Books have nearly sold out of he Wall & Kemp Carrying Cambodia photo book. One can though still order from others such as Borders or Amazon. Or simply open up the Life in Cambodia website with arguably more interesting photo's.
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