HOUSE OF THE WEEKmore
Yangon’s taxi drivers tightening their belts
Volume 26, No. 505
This file photograph shows a taxi filling up at one of Yangon’s CNG stations. Pic: Aung Tun Win
YANGON’S 20,000-plus taxi drivers are finding it harder and harder to make a living, as taxi numbers increase, the number of potential passengers falls, and more and more time is spent waiting to fill the tank, drivers say.
Vehicles that use compressed natural gas (CNG) can fill up anywhere in Yangon Division – except when there is a power cut. Then the driver might have to wait three or four hours to fill up, says U Aung Than, 58, who has been driving for 40 years.
“Some days we have to wait so long to fill the tank that there’s no time left in the shift to drive. When we return the car at the end of the shift, the tank has to be full. If the power is down, we can be waiting since 4am to gas up. If the shift ends at 6am, we’re waiting for two hours,” said taxi driver U Moe Gyi, who lives in Tarmwe township.
Taxis fuelled by petrol are easier to fill up, but the fuel is more expensive, at K3000 per gallon – enough for 40 kilometres, said U Myo Oo, whose taxi runs on petrol.
The number of taxis is also rising, as some car owners rent out their vehicles as taxis for the K10,000-K15,000 daily income they receive from the drivers.
At the same time, says 25-year driving veteran U Kyaw Myint, a lack of spending power means people only use taxis when they have to.
“People take taxis when it’s very hot, or there’s a special occasion. On rainy days, most people don’t even go out unless they have to,” said U Moe Gyi. This cuts the drivers’ income.
“We used to get K30,000-K35,000 a day. Now we struggle to get K25,000. We have to pay the car owner K12,000 per day rent for a CNG-powered car, and K10,000 per day for a petrol or diesel car. Some owners ask for a K200,000 deposit,” said U Aung Than.
A daytime shift lasts from 6am to 6pm, and a night shift from 6pm to 6am, though this is sometimes broken into two six-hour shifts, changing at midnight, said U Aung Than.
“The night shift can be risky, so a driver might take along a friend for protection, and they can take turns in driving and sleeping,” said U Moe Gyi.
Most drivers cannot find other work, for lack of job skills or money to invest.
If the car is damaged, the driver is responsible for up to K20,000 in repair costs. Above that ceiling, the owner pays.
One relatively new competitor on the taxi scene is the rental firm Parami, controlled by Bandoola Transport, which started up in 2005 with 50 new taxis. As of this month they have 500 taxis, a spokesperson said.
Parami taxis are of quality, price and safety standards suitable for foreigners, he said.
“Parami taxi drivers must pass a physical and a written and practical driving test. They must provide a K300,000 deposit, and pay a daily rental charge of K10,000,” he said.