Faced with rapidly declining ridership following the opening of a new bridge, regular ferry service between the Mon State’s Mawlamyine Capital and the nearby Bilugyun Island has been significantly reduced. Of two ferry lines that had supplied the island, one has been closed entirely and the other has seen its service halved. The Inland Water Transport, a state-owned company controlled by the Ministry of Transport and Communication is determining how much—if at all—residents will continue to use ferries over the new bridge.
Before the April 28 change, Inland Water Transport had operated two ferries, one connecting Mawlamyine to Nat Hmaw Village, and the other serving Kalwi Village, both on Bilugyune Island. In the face of a huge and sudden drop in use, the Nat Hmaw line has been discontinued and the Kalwi line’s service reduced, according to U Hla Win, a general manager of the Thanlwin River branch of Inland Water Transport.
“We’ve entirely stopped the Mawlamyine—Nat Hmaw line beginning April 28, but for now we will continue running the Kalwi line once a day” U Hla Win said.
Even the continuation of that connection, though, depends on use. Inland Water Transport operates at a steep loss nationally and has said that it may discontinue all service if there are insufficient passengers. Before the bridge opened on April 27, the ferries made two trips to Bilugyun every day.
The opening of a bridge connecting Bilugyun to Mawlamyine has fundamentally altered the large island’s relationship to the city, which is Myanmar’s fourth largest. That change is felt nowhere more acutely than at the Mawlamyine jetties where small wooden boats carry diminishing crowds and goods back and forth.
Looking up over the steeply sloped concrete Kahnyaw jetty, which used to swell with commuters jostling to board his boat, U Maung Ni said the change had been immediate.
“There are only maybe 10% of the passengers there were three days ago,” he said.
Roughly the size of Singapore, Bilugyun Island has remained largely undeveloped because of its isolation from the mainland. The island, which is heavily agricultural, is home to 160,000 people spread between 78 villages.