PUBLIC transport authorities are looking to take the testosterone out of Yangon’s bus network in a bid to reduce accidents. A senior official from the Yangon Region Supervisory Committee for Motor Vehicles, also known as Ma Hta Tha, told reporters last week that the committee planned to soon allow women behind the wheel of the city’s buses for what is thought to be the first time.
Women would also be given permission to work as conductors, said U Hla Aung, the head of Ma Hta Tha in Yangon.
“We expect that [female drivers] will drive more safely and follow the traffic rules,” he said.
“We will test their driving skills in the same way we test male drivers. They can now apply for a test with the committee … we will test their driving skills on the actual routes before allowing them to be appointed,” he said.
He added that the applicants would have to take a psychological test and women would be restricted to working from 4am to 8:30pm.
While many appear to welcome the proposal, some expressed concern that those women who work on buses would be treated badly by some passengers.
“I’m happy to hear female drivers and conductors will be allowed. Actually this is not new, there were severe female conductors appointed by the Road Transport Corporation (RTC) in the 1970s when I was a university student. I can definitely remember them on the No 17 bus line,” said U Aung Myint, a retired Director of the Department of Transport.
At the time RTC was a state-run enterprise. Female conductors disappeared in the 1980s when the government allowed private transport companies to ply bus routes.
“I expect that female drivers will drive more safely than the men. They’ll be more patient,” he said. “But they will have to work until late at night or in the early morning so they should be given accommodation close to their work. Passenger’s attitudes will also have to change; they will have to show respect to them,” he said.
Ma Yadana, 28, said she expected a backlash from some segments of the community as it is not common for women to drive vehicles in Myanmar.
A car driver for several years, she said she was regularly heckled by men while driving. “Myanmar culture is still different from some neighbouring countries. In Singapore there are also female drivers but they are safe, they are respected by passengers, no one teases them,” she said. “When I’m driving here sometimes men who are walking or driving near me make rude comments. These attitudes need to change.”
Ko Wai Yan, 31, from Sanchaung township, said he was hopeful that the introduction of women drivers and conductors would improve road safety and passenger comfort.
“There will be less traffic accident on the road because the buses won’t compete against each other so much. Another issue is that some male conductor are rude to passengers and are even known to touch women passengers. I expect if we have female conductors these issues will be less common,” he said.
U Aung Myint said major improvements to the public transport system would take much more than women drivers and conductors.
“Yangon’s public transportation is weak at the moment. The system needs to be overhauled because at the moment there are many buses and almost all lines just head straight to downtown, which makes the downtown area too crowded.”