The City of No Two Wheelers

A drive around Yangon will reveal traffic with a difference, especially when compared to other Asian countries. The city roads are crammed only with four wheeled vehicles.

Yangon is perhaps the only city in the world where two wheelers are not seen on the roads, or at least, ridden by the common man. You do see the police and military personnel using them as part of security while escorting senior officials, and yes, the lone rider who is seen stopping every few meters to switch on the street lights. This was intriguing at the outset, till research revealed that motorized two wheeled vehicles were banned in Yangon. In March 2010, a select few organizations were given permission to use two wheelers in Yangon, primarily due to the needs of the job. Approximately 120 two wheelers are used by policemen, personnel from the intelligence agency, and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

The two wheeler family includes scooters, motor cycles, mopeds and bicycles. Countries like India, Vietnam, China have roads crammed with two wheelers, as they meander between cars to reach destinations sooner. Bangkok even has motor cycle taxis, which are so convenient, and the fastest mode of transport literally till the destination doorstep.

For those accustomed to seeing two wheelers whizzing past, speeding and racing, often threatening four wheelers, Yangon appears different and one is challenged to pinpoint the biggest reason behind this difference. Seeing only four wheelers plying on all the roads, makes the roads more congested though there is a semblance of uniformity in the vehicles standing in lines at traffic lights, with no motorbikes jumping queues and crowding at the start of the queue.

Obviously, this puts the common man in a quandary since everyone cannot afford cars. Public transport is one option, and the second and equally popular one, is the truckbus – what I would call a lorry, which has a covered back, and seats at the back, accommodating 8-10 in smaller ones, and 15-20 in bigger ones. It is also customary for the work place to provide such transport to its employees.

The rest of the country sees motorbikes in thousands. Figures revealed, indicate that there are 1,880, 986 two wheelers in Myanmar. In case the ban is lifted in Yangon, the number will doubtlessly increase by tens of thousands, as urbanization and development of industry makes people find affordable accommodation on the fringes of the city. Big brands like Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, Piaggio, Peugeot, and others are eyeing this as a huge market.

Two wheelers offer freedom, speed and less commuting time, despite the dangers of  two wheelers and exposure to the elements and pollution. More affordable for the middle class, they save on fuel as well.

On the road, two wheelers can be risky too, since the incidence of accidents increases, and injuries are more severe. It is difficult to decide whether the ban on Yangon is good or bad, but while it lasts, the city is a safer place.