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Phnom Penh to Incorporate Dedicated Bus Lanes For Public Transport, Alleviate Congestion

A City Bus drives along a street in Phnom Penh on January 12, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
A City Bus drives along a street in Phnom Penh on January 12, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

As Phnom Penh’s public bus service struggles with traffic to serve people, Prime Minister Hun Manet instructed the Phnom Penh Capital Administration to establish bus lanes which prioritize public transit.

During the groundbreaking ceremony for the twin flyover in Phnom Penh on Monday, Hun Manet said its construction was expected to reduce traffic congestion but called for a long-term resolution for traffic jams in the capital, which includes bus lanes.

He urged government institutions to draw up forward-thinking policies to find perpetual solutions to avoid having to design new systems time and again when it comes to infrastructure development. 

Urban planning should consider measures such as the width of sidewalks, number of lanes on the road as well as the inclusion of public transport lanes, Hun Manet said, adding that the new roads need to be designed with bus lanes for public transport.

“In suburbs or satellite cities, the road system needs to be designed like this,” he said. “Public transportation is for everyone, so it must be given priority over private vehicles.” 

Hun Manet said doing so will resolve congestion, but this approach is only applicable in the suburbs and satellite cities as it was difficult to expand the road in the capital, thus, it was necessary to prepare the flow of existing traffic for vehicles. 

“In new developments, the roads will be designed [to incorporate] lanes for public buses,” he remarked. If the lanes were not factored in, public buses would continue to cause congestion. Therefore, the new roads will be designed to have three lanes, with the right lanes reserved for public transportation. 

The prime minister also asked to look into the construction of additional roundabouts, flyovers, and subways where they are to be built. 

A young research fellow at Future Forum, Chhum Sambath, observed that the Phnom Penh’s shared traffic lanes are unable to efficiently accommodate the traffic comprising private vehicles and public buses. The combination of the city’s heavy traffic, street stalls and businesses, and narrow lanes severely limits bus routes, which would be an obstacle rather than a solution to traffic congestion. 

This is where bus lanes would be incorporated because the designated lanes allow for fast and uninterrupted travel without any impediment. “I think the initiative is a step in the right direction with strong advocacy on the use of public transportation instead of private vehicles, which can facilitate better traffic flow and reduce carbon emission, if executed properly,” he said. 

Even though bus lanes are currently only planned for ring roads outside of Phnom Penh and satellite cities, the initiative can assist city planners gain valuable insights on how to effectively incorporate public bus transportation and other forms of shared transportation in the city’s overall infrastructure.

Traffic jam in Phnom Penh on February 19, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Traffic jam in Phnom Penh on February 19, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

On the lack of feasibility for the incorporation of the lanes on Phnom Penh roads, Sambath said the limitation comes from a car-centric approach to city planning, which views private vehicles, especially cars, as an “absolute necessity”. “The infrastructure is designed to accommodate cars rather than people.”

He pointed out that the introduction of bus lanes might not be enough to convince commuters to switch to public transportation unless additional infrastructure which ensures convenient pedestrian travel is constructed. It includes well-lit and covered walkways, footbridges and bike lanes to bridge the gap from bus stops to final destinations.

“If city planners approach this problem with the same mindset as they do ring roads and satellite cities where public transportation is a top priority, I am certain that this conundrum can be properly addressed,” Sambath said. 

While there are roads in Phnom Penh that may not be wide enough to accommodate public buses and private vehicles, smaller roads could be converted into bus and bike lanes with dedicated pedestrian walkways to encourage public transportation use and travel by foot, thereby reducing a reliance on private vehicles.

“I think this is a slow implementation process which requires time,” he said. “Yet with the incorporation of proper pedestrian infrastructures to prompt a mindset change for people to switch to public transport, I’m certain that a vision of a greener and pedestrian-friendly Phnom Penh can be realized.” 

In his opinion piece early this year, Sambath noted that for the reforms to be successful, the community and policy makers need to work together. If the bus service fails to meet travelers’ needs, they will not be persuaded to give up their vehicles. Similarly, without actual changes which prioritize buses or bus lanes, the public transport system cannot effectively replace vehicles including motorcycles.

“A concerted effort of the government and other relevant stakeholders to improve Phnom Penh’s walkability and enhance the city bus network will transform the transportation in the city for the better,” he added. 

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesperson Met Meas Pheakdey did not respond to questions.

Traffic jam in Phnom Penh on February 19, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
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