Interview: U Phyo Min Thein

What are the key ways to improve Yangon’s basic infrastructure and traffic management?

U PHYO MIN THEIN: We are working to improve the quality of life of our citizens by finding the right balance between economic development and the expansion of Yangon, as well as the preservation of the city’s green land and historic heritage. To accomplish this the regional government recognises the importance of addressing infrastructure gaps. During the last decades the expansion of the city was not followed by the modernisation of its infrastructure, and this is now putting pressure on city management and public services.

In this context, one of the main areas of intervention will be the renovation and expansion of Yangon’s sewage system, which cannot effectively respond to the needs of the city, as it was built by the British at the end of the 19th century. The growing number of high-rise buildings and the mounting pressure generated by population growth make investment in new sewage and water treatment systems an absolute necessity. For its initial phase we will work together with some of our international stakeholders to recover the Bogyoke Market sewage system. We will use part of the World Bank’s $100m soft loan to finance this project.

Another priority area of intervention is traffic circulation. While knowing that we will not be able to fully eliminate the challenges posed by traffic congestion, we are already taking some important measures to address this issue. One of them was the creation of the new Yangon Region Transport Authority, under which we created the Yangon Bus Service (YBS). The objective of the centralisation of the city’s bus services under YBS was to create an integrated and affordable bus system for the population. The next steps to improve Yangon’s public transportation will be the upgrade of Yangon’s Circular Train System and the creation of a water transportation system plan.

In terms of traffic management, we are investing in new technologies. We have recently set up a centralised traffic control management system, which allows people to check the status of traffic on their mobile phones.

We are also going to install GPS systems in every YBS bus. Soon the users of our bus system will also have access to an electronic card payment system which, besides its function of mobility, can also be used for shopping. The card system will be monitored by the Yangon Payment Service, and we are currently initiating the call for tenders to participate in this project. Lastly, we have also pushed for the introduction of transport sharing applications such as Grab and Uber to further improve mobility in Yangon.

How can Yangon leverage its geographic position to become a regional logistics centre?

PHYO MIN THEIN: Our long-term vision is to transform Yangon into a regional economic and trade centre by taking advantage of the city’s strategic geographical location. Maritime trade will play a determinant role in that process, since 90% of the goods imported into Myanmar enter through the Port of Yangon. Today, with the opening of Myanmar to foreign trade and the general growth of the economy, the port has reached its capacity limit. We will have to invest in the expansion of Yangon’s port capacity and boost the quality of our logistics infrastructure because logistics costs are 15% higher than they should be. To address this, we will have to upgrade the connectivity of our ports by improving the quality of our roads and railway.

Another point of intervention will be the improvement of the navigability of our rivers, since water transportation is the most competitive transport solution. In a nutshell, we will have to connect the north and south of Myanmar to enable Yangon to become a relevant regional economic centre through which some of our landlocked neighbours can trade. At the same time we will have to expand the amount of dry ports and storage capacity to create the conditions for the further development of the local industry and manufacturing sector.