I thought it would be interesting to take a look at transportation in Yangon, as this has been on my mind.

First, traffic in the city has become horrendous. It is far worse than one year ago when I arrived, and it’s at the point where trying to get anywhere from the hours of 8am-8pm (particularly on week days) has become quite a process. Commute times vary wildly, with the same route one day taking 20 minutes and the next day taking 90. A friend took a taxi to the airport which was 3 hours one day (he missed his flight) and 1 hour the following day (same time but Friday the first day and Saturday the second day).

Second, I’m spending more money than I’d like on taxis (on a daily basis), and it’s starting to add up. My daily expenditures (everything except rent), comes to about $20, and on a given day taxi expenditures could be anywhere from $5.00-$10.00. For instance, yesterday I had a lunch meeting downtown ($3.00-$3.50 each way) and then went to a restaurant with friends (another $3.00 — I only paid one way).

Third, negotiating taxis on a daily basis for the last year has started to wear on me. It’s not a matter of just hailing a taxi and jumping in. Each time requires the song and dance of throwing a number or countering the driver’s offer, then having to try and convince why that number makes sense, and argue over whether or not there will be traffic, and then dealing with the emotional reaction of regularly getting offered inflated numbers (and thinking back on the deal after it has been agreed upon).

So how does one get around? Here are the options:

  1. Taxis: Most expensive, negotiation required, fastest option.
  2. Buses: Unstructured (pick-up times? routes?), longer commutes, cheap.
  3. Bicycle: Dangerous, frustrating (at drivers), but fast and cheap.
  4. Walking: Sweaty, dangerous, limited range, but most reliable option, and cheap.

I had been using a bike for shorter commutes (I tried longer ones but it was too dicey), but the bike is out of commission now, so I may need to get a new one. In lieu of that, I’ve been walking more, but that is very slow. Today, I made an attempt at the buses, which is something I’m debating if I should do more of. It’s super cheap (between 10-30 cents for any distance — based on bus quality), but it slows the commute down, and you have deal with the crowds of people and the uncertainty of which bus goes where and at what time (and where the bus stops are, which appear only to be demarcated based on a loosely formed group of people standing at the side of the road). To get from downtown to my apartment, it cost me about $0.20 and took about 1.5 hours (a taxi would have cost $3.00-$3.50 and probably have taken between 45 minutes and 1 hour).

Here is a map of most of the lower half of Yangon with pricing (the downtown spots have gone up by about $0.50 given traffic).

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Here’s a chart to show that prices (based on my negotiations) seems non-linear. That is, it’s more expensive to go shorter distances than longer ones (on a per-mile basis), which is also frustrating in the negotiation process.

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Here’s the value proposition of taking buses:

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This is a cooler-looking bus (I heard it’s one of the handed-down buses from Japan — model circa 1970s):