Monday, February 6, 2017

Learning firsthand about Ulaanbaatar’s new bus system

On August 15, 2015, the new bus-route scheme started to provide service in Ulaanbaatar and I was lucky enough to have a field visit on the exact same date with the Urban Transport Team and get feedback from passengers. Eight months later I joined another field visit and I thought I would share my observations from both.
The objectives of the new bus-route scheme were to simplify and reduce the number of lines in UB City. The World Bank team did not create the new system or routes, but is advising the city.
What I saw last August was a little chaos at the bus stops, and almost half of all passengers were complaining about the new routes. While some passengers complained that the routes had only increased bus transfers of riders, others complained about the lack of prior announcement that the new routes were coming. Bus Drivers were the most unhappy people since their salaries had decreased more than 50% and conductors were left jobless as their jobs were replaced by machines. 


            The Korean- Mongolian consortium Ulaanbaatar Smart card had started operating the “U Money” card for electronic payment in buses from July 24th of 2015. The UB bus fleet had been equipped with an on-board unit to accept payments via Smart Card, and by the time we had our fieldwork a month or so had passed. However, only 1 in 10 passengers were using Smart Cards at that time and the reason was that passengers couldn’t find the “U money” recharge kiosks (according to the feedback of a passenger).
I experienced this problem myself, as well. Since our team had been switching from one bus to another my money in the Smart Card had finished and I had to recharge it. The bus station where I was didn’t sell the “Smart card” money so I had to pay in cash to get to the next station. Unfortunately, the next station also didn’t have it. In this situation I had to pass several bus stops and come back to Bagshiin Deed, where I finally found the U Money Recharge Kiosk. 
Previously I had heard that transfers within 30 minutes would be at reduced fare but this still wasn’t available at the time of our field trip.
            And then, on April 26th of 2016 I joined our Ulaanbaatar Sustainable Urban Transport Analytical Activity Mission Team on their Field Work for the second time. This time the team received much better feedback. The team was divided into three groups to take three different routes. I was on Team 3 with Yang Chen, Urban Transport Specialist, and Bat-Erdene, Consultant, taking the route from Zaisan to Suljmel and the other way around. Out of 18 passengers we interviewed 94% were giving positive comments on the new route and the “U Money” card. “It’s better to have the ‘U Money’ card since it’s hard to get the change back if you don’t have the exact amount of money” says a passenger. 72 % of the passengers has been using a smart card and it was definitely much more than on my last fieldwork.

           Everyone was happy with the new system but the driver. The driver was complaining about the system just like in August last year. Their salaries have been decreased and most of the drivers have resigned from their jobs to apply for better-paying jobs, such as a truck-driver in mining fields. The salary of the driver we interviewed used to be 1,800,000 tugriks and now it’s from 700,000 to 800,000 tugriks.  Another concern was the unavailability of monitoring cash receipts. Many passengers are not using the Smart Card, and without the support of the conductors, drivers are not available to check the amount of money passengers are putting in the cash box, located near the driver’s cabin. There are some passengers who tear the cash into two pieces and put it twice or don’t pay altogether. In the rush hours, when many people enter at the same time, some passengers sneak into the bus between the other passengers. I saw quite a few of them during my 94-minute-ride. The driver was also concerned that drunk people often get in the bus and make messes such as vomiting. Conductors used to not let them in,
but now the driver, working alone, cannot get off and deal with them.


The City Transportation Authority and the “Ulaanbaatar Smart Card” company have launched on a trial basis a new service called the “UB SMART BUS” application for android phones. The new app shows the public transport timetables, maps with the location of the bus stops and routes. However, only 18% of the passengers we reviewed, have been heard about it and half of them didn’t have a smart phone.
There had been improvements for the process of transferring passengers since August last year. When they get off, passengers placed their cards again at the reader at the back door and they transferred free to the next bus within 30 minutes, which seemed very convenient. I heard the card-reading machine say “Passenger Transferred” when a Transfer passenger got into the bus.
Overall, passengers seemed to have better understanding of the system this time on April 26th, 2016, than on August 15, 2015. More people had Smart Cards and were using the transfer treats. The routes seem to be working fine and the passengers have gotten used to them.  I believe that people who are trying to get into the bus without paying or putting less money or even tearing the cash into two pieces will decrease as time passes when the economy gets better and when people get more virtuous. People need time to get used to something “New”.  As a citizen of UB City, I am personally very encouraged by the new system.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank James Anderson for his courage to write my very first blog and his editorial suggestions. Yang Chen for sharing the outcomes of the survey and the Mongolia Urban Transport Team Arturo Ardila Gomez Gladys Frame Fatima Arroyo Arroyo Jean Paul Velez

I am sharing the April 26, 2016 Survey Outcomes below.

Date: April 26, 2016 Time: 3:20pm-5:20pm
Route #42 (Zaisan <-> Suljmel) Bus #29

Total number of passengers surveyed

Trip purpose

Commuting (work, or school)
Family and social

Fare collection

Using smart card
Paying regular fare


Satisfied with the route
Satisfied with smart card

Bus information

Own a smart phone
Have heard of the app for bus information
Prefer bus information to be displayed at bus stops

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