The first waterway taxi in Phnom Penh came into service on Friday, carrying people from the northern part of the city south to Takhmao city in Kandal province.

A system to transport agricultural products will shortly follow.

Under the management of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, three water taxis are in service from 6am to 6pm, docking at six places along the waterway.

The service will be free until the end of July. The ministry says that after July the fare will be 5,400 riel ($1.30) the 25km trip.

Each new boat costs about $200,000, and the ministry planned to use six of them for a full service which was expected to be introduced soon, Transport Minister Sun Chanthol said.

The blue boats all have air conditioners, and can carry about 60 passengers.

“It is a historical for Cambodia to get a boat taxi service,” Mr Chanthol said.

“We launch the boat taxi service today to allow people use the service before Khmer New Year as the government has promised, along with other promises including the railway service from Poipet and Serey Sophorn and the airport railway service.”

The ministry has partnered with PiPay, a mobile payment app in Cambodia, to sell water taxi tickets. There are ticket offices at each stop.

The boat taxis give people an alternative to the city bus service, privately owned tuk-tuks and other vehicles.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday applauded the achievement of setting up water taxis. He said the service would help ease traffic congestion on streets.

Phnom Penh Kong Sominea took the boat taxi service with her friends.

“It is good that the boat taxi service is now available,” Ms Sominea said, adding that she had experienced using the city buses.

“It will be easy to use this public transport service.”

Mr Chanthol said the government planned to expand the service beyond the current route to Saang district and Phnom Penh Autonomous Port in Kean Svay district in Kandal province.

“If demand for the boat taxi service increases, the ministry will build more stops in Saang district and Koh Thom and in Phnom Penh Autonomous Port,” he said.

The ministry also has a plan to build a port along the Mekong River for agricultural product transport soon after a feasibility study by the Korean International Cooperation Agency.

A port for agricultural products will be built in Kampong Cham province’s Tonle Bet, Mr Chanthol said.

The project was based on studies by KOICA of the waterway from Phnom Penh to the northeastern Kratie province.

However, Mr Chanthol could not say what the estimated budget for the project would be.

Kim Saroeun, of Kampong Cham provincial agricultural department, said that the project would meet the demands of farmers and agricultural traders in the province who wished to see lower transport costs.

“If the project goes ahead, it will be in response to the wishes of farmers and agricultural product traders because the cost of transporting agricultural products from one place to other is high,” Mr Saroeun said. “When there is a port for agricultural products, it will also become a hub for agricultural products. Especially, it will encourage farmers.”

Mr Saroeun said vegetables, fruit and meat produced in Kampong Cham province were mostly sent to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and a few other provinces. Agro-industry products – cassava and rubber – were mostly sold to Vietnam.