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Friday, September 10, 2010


Phnom Penh's new transport system

When I think about the issues in Phnom Penh that make it difficult for anyone to get around I am aware that there is a lack of transport infrastructure. Phnom Penh is a city of 2,000,000 people but it has no co-ordinated public transport system that I am aware of. I have a dream that before they start building too many tall buildings, which is happening, they could put in an underground rail network. This would provide regular meaningful work for so many people but somehow I just don't see it happening.

At the moment I am in Pakse, a Lao city much smaller than Phnom Penh and what I see in Pakse are sorngtheaus. It hit me. This is the answer for Phnom Penh. The word sorngtheau means 'two rows'. Basically a sorngtheau is a pick-up truck with a roof over the back and two rows of seats. In a town like Mahasarakham I can travel from one end of town to the other on a sorngtheau for eight baht. Every medium-sized Thai town has a system of sorngtheaus which gets people around the town quickly and cheaply.

Surely the investment in such a system is not huge. I am aware that Phnom Penh is looking more prosperous than it was eighteen months ago. Previously, new cars were relatively rare. Now there are many. The last guesthouse I stayed in in Phnom Penh this visit is owned and operated by a man who has been living in Australia for about twenty years. He returned to Phnom Penh a relatively rich man. There must be many such people, Cambodians who have migrated to Western countries and been successful. They can now return to Cambodia and create a new middle class.

Perhaps such a person would be able to invest in Phnom Penh's new sorngtheau transport system. Hopefully the government would see the value of this and give support to such a person.

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