The trouble started Monday morning when students of the Technological University in Sittwe were notified that they would have to pay double their regular fare, from 150 kyat ($0.15) to 300 kyat ($0.30), for the ride from the campus to the city center.
In a country where an average monthly salary of a professional worker is less than 10,000 kyat ($13), the fare hike can mean a difference between obtaining a degree and dropping out of college.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, a student from Technological University said, “We are unhappy with the increased bus fare, and we took to the streets to voice our concerns.”
At 3 p.m. On Monday, about 300 students from Technological University refused to take the bus because of the revised fare and walked from the campus to Sittwe city center at a time when most students were returning home. The number of protesters grew to about 1,000 after students from Computer University in Sittwe joined in, said the source.
The protest continued until 10 p.m. when the head of Computer University in Sittwe, Aung Kyaw Nyein, met with the students and said he would resolve the matter, the source said, adding that the number of people had by that time increased to about 3,000, including students’ parents and onlookers.
The school bus owners had to demand the 200 Kyats for a one-way fare from students after steadily losing profits. In the past the bus owners received fuel from the government to ply between Sittwe and the college, but the government stopped supplying the fuel after handing over operations to the privately-owned Htoo Company, led by business tycoon Teza.
The Htoo Company has been unable to supply fuel to the school buses as earlier, and the buses subsequently demanded double fare from students.
This is not the first time a hike in transportation fees has sparked a mass protest that is such a rarity in a country as oppressed as Burma. In January last year, students from Technological University staged similar protests in the Arakan capital. The Saffron Revolution was also sparked by rise in gas prices that resulted in bus fare hikes.
The Government Technical College in Sittwe was closed down by authorities on Tuesday after the demonstrations.
“The college authorities announced the school would be closed immediately on July 6, soon after the demonstration, as authorities were worried the protests would continue into the next day,” said Ko Kyaw Myint who is a student from the college.
The school is expected to remain closed through next Sunday.