Home Insider Articles Time to Set the Car Policies Straight

Time to Set the Car Policies Straight

Commuters wait in traffic at rush hour in Yangon, Myanmar on August 31, 2018. Photograph: Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg

Myanmar has come a long way from the brink of civil war and economic collapse to the solid foundation to restart the engines of economic growth. The currency policy is stable now. Balance of trade is on the right track and with the West and
ASEAN, especially turning against us, the situation is significantly better than the same time a year ago. Finally the imports are starting to come back, despite the fact that it is taking awfully long (>4 months) for my car essential spare parts to arrive. The dealer said it is due to the delay in getting the import permit. Electric vehicles less than a year old can be imported with nil customs duty and normal vehicles less than a year old can also be imported through paying the normal duties and taxes.

Until now Myanmar is addressing the congestion problem using the import taxes and custom duties, controlling the flow of vehicles into the country. That makes the cost of initial purchase of cars prohibitively expensive. Once people bought it,
since they had paid for the car so much, they would tend to use more, so as to justify the cost. The end result is the traffic congestion. In a family of four, if they have four cars, it is most likely that each one would drive one to respective destinations. Most of the developed countries these days are going for anti-car
movements. Young people are going without cars. In 1983, 1 in 12 youngsters between 20 and 24 have no driving licenses. In 2020, the figure is 1 in 5, i.e., 20% of the youth in their prime do not drive these days. In Britain too, the proportion of teen drivers have halved, from 41% to 21% over the past 20 years. Rise in insecure and poorly paid jobs, decline in home ownership, longer eduction times, rise of taxi apps such as uber, higher motor insurance premiums for youngsters, higher petrol costs and toll fees, climate change concerns are all driving youth into a life without own cars.

Myanmar has not reach at that level of development yet. Yet you see traffic jams and congestion all across Yangon on all days except Sundays. Even non-rush hours there is congestion downtown and along artery roads i.e., Kabar Aye Pagoda and Pyay Roads.

Other than occasional unsuccessful attempts to adjust traffic lights and alter parts of the roads, there is no serious attempt to curb congestion in Yangon. One of the policy tool used is through the import taxes and customs duties to make the car
price exorbitant. This tool itself has the serious counterincentive of being a demotivator to young working adults and families to work hard to own a car. Because the price is not within their reach. They knew that at current wages, the dream would never be fulfilled. So why try!

If Myanmar did it right, it could kill two birds with one stone; keep the youth motivated to acquire better and more convenient things in life and at the same time, reduce congestion in major cities.

The smooth flow of traffic is very conducive to attracting foreign investment too. Assuming the CEO of Samsung come to Myanmar. If he is stuck in a traffic jam from the Yangon Airport going to Pan Pacific hotel downtown, would he be impressed with Myanmar or would he got fed up and decide against investing here?

So what’s the solution to the congestion problems. One chat with the famous AI ChatGPT revealed quite comprehensive solutions to the question of “How to control traffic congestion”. Keeping import taxes high is NOT one of them. Even the AI understood that it is not the ownership of vehicles that causes the congestion, rather the use of them.

Answer from ChatGPT…

<<Traffic congestion can be a major problem in cities and urban areas, causing frustration, delays, and increased air pollution. Here are a few strategies that can help to control traffic congestion:

Improve public transportation: One of the most effective ways to reduce traffic congestion is to provide more convenient and reliable public transportation options, such as buses, trains, and subways. By encouraging people to use public transportation instead of driving, cities can reduce the number of cars on the road and ease congestion.

Promote carpooling: Carpooling involves sharing a ride with others who are going to the same destination. Encouraging carpooling through incentives such as preferential parking or toll discounts can help reduce the number of cars on the road and ease traffic congestion. Implement congestion pricing: Congestion pricing involves charging drivers a fee to use certain roads or areas during peak traffic hours. By charging higher fees during rush hour, cities can discourage driving during these times and reduce congestion. Many cities have introduced congestion charging zones: London, Milan, Stockholm, Singapore, and probably New York City in the near future.

Improve traffic flow management:

Improving traffic flow management through intelligent transportation systems (ITS) can help to reduce congestion. This involves using technology to manage traffic signals, monitor traffic flow, and provide real-time traffic updates to drivers.

Encourage active transportation:

Encouraging walking, cycling, and other forms of active transportation can reduce the number of cars on the road and ease congestion. This can be done through infrastructure improvements such as bike lanes and pedestrian paths, as well as through education and awareness campaigns.

Implement flexible work arrangements: Employers can offer flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks. By reducing the number of people commuting during rush hour, cities can ease
traffic congestion.

Overall, controlling traffic congestion requires a multi-pronged approach that includes a combination of infrastructure improvements, technological solutions, and behaviour change initiatives.>>

After all, housing in walkable neighbourhoods (no cars pass through) costs 34% more than it does in sprawling places, based on 2022 global statistics.