Imagine being new to Yangon, the question that inevitably arises after some time in the city: Where are all the motorbikes?
Unlike virtually every other city in Southeast Asia, from Bangkok to Hanoi, Yangon has not been buzzing with two-wheeled riders for nearly 20 years, a ban people are now calling on the government to reverse the ban.
“Once we get on the bike, they always think we are about to break the law. That’s not right,” said Win Kyaw Myaing, one of the effort’s organizers.
Ko Thet, also of the Yangon Bikers Revolution group, sent a petition with 8,000 signatures to the President’s office, State Counsellor Aung San Syu Kyi and Yangon’s chief minister, the “If they think motorbikes are dangerous, they should ban them in other regions such as Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Bago,” Kho Thet, 35, told reporters Tuesday.
A similar 2019 petition was ignored by the government.
Ko Thet said that some Yangon townships, where municipal buses are not available, people have to travel by motorbike to get around.
Wai Phyo Han, MP for Insein Township No. 2, told reporters that if motorbikes were to be allowed again in Yangon, it should only be in designated areas.
“Other countries are also planning to reduce the time limit for motorbikes to be on the road,” he said. “Riding a bike outside the city is not a problem, but riding it within the city will increase traffic congestion.”
Not even unregistered e-bikes are allowed in Yangon, though many are frequently busted on the road.
The ban covered 31 of Yangon’s 33 townships, with exceptions granted to Dala and Seikgyi Kanaungto. Police and other government workers are allowed to ride registered bikes.
The frequent justification for the 2003 ban is that they are linked to lawlessness, used for robberies, illegal street races and frequent accidents. Some point to the fact that the ban came down after a 2003 incident in which two teenagers on a bike sped away after making a finger gun gesture at a Tatmadaw general at a Sule Pagoda traffic stop.
Despite failing to win change two years ago, the pro-biker group said they don’t intend to back down this time.
Until then, riding an unregistered motorbike can result in its confiscation and three years in prison, while those with plates are fined MMK100,000 (USD$75).
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!