Business Article

Impact of COVID-19 Restrictions on Domestic Transport

July 12, 2021

Passenger transport

Once COVID-19 has spread around the world especially in neighbouring countries, the government has been taking precautionary measures to control and limit the risk of the spreading of corona virus in Myanmar. In order to limit the spreading of corona virus, the restrictions on domestic transportation of passengers and cargo has also been set.

Regarding urban transport in Yangon city with over 5 million population, people in Yangon mostly use public transport such as Yangon Bus Services (YBS) since the use of motorcycles has limited in the Yangon City. In order to reduce the contact among people, the number of passengers on the bus has to be reduced according to maintain a physical distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet). The operation of YBS buses has dropped to 2,300 from 4,500, which are running on 126 routes because of the declining number of passengers. The number of daily commuters is estimated to be over 400,000 which are dropped from about 2 million in normal condition.

Unlike Yangon, with the absence of a functioning public transport system like YBS, Mandalay is the city of motorbikes. However, during the time of COVID-19, people in Mandalay are not allowed to ride the motorbikes with two or more people together on a bike. This policy causes motorbike taxi drivers harm.  

Regarding highway passenger transport, they mostly use highway buses since it is fair price. Since the beginning of COVID-19 period, the number of highway buses has reduced and in some bus lines, the passengers are not allowed are travel but only the goods. Moreover, the number of available passenger seats in a bus has decreased to half, as people cannot sit next to each other as usual. So, the price of the seats has risen. These things make people more difficult in such pandemic period. Highway passenger volume was dropped by 60-80% that made huge losses for transporters during the pandemic period in 2020.

Another public transportation is Myanmar Railway. In order to control the spread of COVID-19 in Myanmar, Myanmar railways have reduced the numbers of trains for long distance as well as circular trains such as Yangon Circular Railway. Before the first COVID-19 outbreak, over 90,000 passengers took the circular train every day with a total of 220 trains were in service. However, during the lockdowns, Yangon Circular Train only served commuters during peak hours.  For some people, they believed that it is better to take circular train instead of taking bus during the COVID-19 period as trains are much roomier inside and have many windows, letting in the fresh air, so it is safer than an air-conditioned bus.

Concerning airlines, both domestic flights and international flights have been under COVID travel restrictions since 2020. Although most domestic airlines are operated in 2021, it has been slow down in COVID Third Wave period.  Myanmar Airways International (MAI) and Air KBZ suspend flights between Yangon and several other areas, including Dawei, Kalay, Kawthaung, Kyaing Yong, Myeik, and Tachileik where they are closed to neighbouring countries in June,2021. Besides, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has continued to suspend all operations of international commercial passenger flights to and from all Myanmar airports until July 31, 2021. This suspension does not apply to relief flights, all-cargo flights, medical evacuation flights and special flights specifically approved by the DCA. All types of visa to all foreign nationals are currently halted until July 31, 2021.

Cargo transport

This has an impact not only on the passengers and the bus lines’ owners but also on the traders throughout the country. Goods cannot be arrived with normal cost or in time according to the limitations and the reducing number of bus lines. However, all of them need to operate their specific tasks despite of the danger of virus. More than 400 express bus lines are providing transport service from Yangon-based highway terminals to the regions and states. The express buses and cargo trucks had to pass the necessary COVID tests and inspections by the related teams to get terminal access. Some highway express bus lines are turning to freight transport mode and some bus lines are providing parcel forwarding service. Moreover, the transport cost for commodities from other states and regions to Yangon has increased more than double amid the coronavirus crisis. Following the double increase rate, only 20 to 30 trucks are entering Yangon cargo terminal while hundreds of trucks were flowing into before the COVID period. The local products could not easily be transported to the other regions owing to high truck fares and COVID restrictions in 2020. Cargo Transport Association estimated that the cargo volume was dropped by more than 60% during COVID Wave one and two.

Passenger and cargo transport will be faced similar challenges during COVID Third Wave in 2021. These transport difficulties directly affect not only transporters but also consumers.