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Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

At first, most people, including taxi drivers, panicked as petrol stations suddenly stopped selling petrol on one fine day immediately after Thingyan Holidays. Rumours and gossips abound raging from having no one to sell fuel to Myanmar at worst, to fuel tanks being empty in Thilawa port at best. For those who are unfortunate enough to believe in such falsehood on that day would have probably spent more petrol waiting for hours to filled up than the actually top up allowance by the petrol station of sometimes just 10,000 Kyats (~5 litre). The government held a mini press conference the day after to calm the fears, confirming the sufficiency of fuel for the whole country (Page xx?). It also issued warnings to owners of stations and distributors not to close the petrol stations off and to continue selling fuel, else the station would lose its permit to sell fuel.

Within 48 hours, the situation is back to normal. MI team has managed to buy diesel for generators and fuel for different cars are at least three or four separate petrol stations without much queuing.

Yet, for the taxi drivers, the predicament is far from over: they have stopped running the taxis on the day of the chaos. The next days, the fuel is available, yet the prices are on the usual uptrend again. Chit Oo, one taxi driver from Mayan Gone township, said ‘ You cannot make profit anymore. The price of petrol has gone up too high and sometimes the income is not even enough to break even.”

“The taxis using petrol can no longer be on day lease arrangement with the contractor drivers. Now the owners themselves are driving the taxis. Furthermore, the empty taxis are not being driven around looking for passengers. They are behaving very untaxi-like by stopping and waiting at certain places, hoping for passengers to knock on their glass windows and hire them. With the economy in dire straits, the drivers cannot ask for higher fares either, else they may cause the potential passenger to look for cheaper alternatives. It’s not working out for both sides,” continued Chit Oo.

Those who are not caught between this rock and a hard place, are the drivers who drive CNG  (Compressed Natural Gas) powered taxis. The drivers MI spoke to all estimated that around 90% of taxis running around in Yangon these days are CNG powered vehicles. The petrol and diesel prices went above 2,500 Kyats per litre last month; towards the end of April, the 95 petrol was priced at ~2,000 Kyats per litre and premium diesel was slightly higher at ~2,250Kyats per litre.

The government met with all businessmen involved in fuel trading and retailing, to tackle the double whammy of shortage as well as the skyrocketing prices. After the close door meeting, almost all petrol retailers made the announcement that they would be selling without quotas to customers.