Insight | Macau: Nothing new under the sun

Paulo Barbosa

During a recent Legislative Assembly plenary meeting, the Chief Executive reviewed the government’s performance over the last five years.  The conclusion was made that the government has achieved its goals “in all aspects” and that “Macau has enhanced its sustainable comprehensive strength, maintained social stability and improved the overall quality of life of its people.”
Concerning public transportation and traffic flow issues – one of the sectors that tops residents’ concerns – Chui Sai On didn’t say much, commenting, “over the years, the Government has been working hard on issues related to public transport, cross-boundary connectivity.”
With packed public buses, cheating taxi drivers and endless traffic jams, even Chui Sai On would admit that, as he put it in his government review, “yet, there is still room for improvement.”
Taking a closer look at the transportation sector in Macau, we see numerous shortcomings on the Transport Bureau’s (DSAT) dealings with public service providers and the public. All of those shortcomings implicate the same director, Wong Wan, and the same Secretary, Lau Si Io.
The latest of these shortcomings was DSAT’s inability to reach an agreement with the so-called yellow taxis (Vang Iek Radio Taxi Company) that were forced to leave Macau’s roads this month.
The company’s license included an agreement that it would provide 60 percent of its taxis on a dial-a-cab basis, and 40 percent offering the regular service. Vang Iek sought an additional fee for dial-a-cab services that, according to DSAT’s director, would put the flag fall rate for dial-a-cab taxis at over MOP30. Ignoring the company’s argument that the fee was necessary for its survival, the government decided to not renew the contract. This resolution generates a new monopoly in town, since from now on the black taxis are running alone. Does someone believe that they will improve their reckless service?
Analyzing this decision, the newly created and super-active Macau Taxi Passengers Association said in a press release that, “Macau has a drastic shortage of taxis and the decision to force taxis off the road borders on moronic.”
This is only the latest of DSAT’s shortcomings and not the most serious. That, in my opinion, rests in the absolute failure to implement a strategy that limits the number of private vehicles and promotes greener transportation (bikes and several major streets closed to traffic would do it). The current inconsistencies between traffic flow and the size of Macau are very serious because it is also a public health matter: our lungs feel the air pollution from heavy traffic. Despite public announcements and “transportation strategies”, nothing has been done in this regard.
And then there is the Reolian affair, which smeared Macau’s reputation amongst international investors.  In 2009, Reolian was granted three routes during a tender for operating rights of public bus services. The tender was marked by controversy, since TCM was initially not considered, as it had allegedly delivered its tender proposal four minutes late. TCM was later accepted following a court order and all three bus operators were included in the new scheme, with Reolian being asked to release part of its awarded routes in favor of TCM.
From the beginning of its operations, Reolian encountered challenges like high operation costs, manpower shortages and the government’s refusal to pay for a contractual annual adjustment of the fees related to inflation. Finally, on October 1, Reolian announced that it had filed for bankruptcy with accumulated loses of MOP120 million.
Three months later DSAT’s director Wong Wan, went to the AL to give explanations, and announced himself to be the main government official accountable for issues related to the current bus operation system. “If we are to determine liability, I am the first person to assume responsibility since, alongside my team, I was the one responsible for implementing the new bus operation model,” he stated.
But in Macau, it’s as if things that happened didn’t really happen. Despite Wong Wan’s admission of his own accountability on what has gone wrong with the bus operation model, he continues to manage all the sector’s shortcomings.
There is nothing new under the sun.

Categories Opinion