More than 600 motorcyclists and drivers of ride-hailing tuk-tuks have flocked to participate in a training course on road traffic laws following an announcement by Phnom Penh Municipal Hall last week that the course would be free of charge. Civil society organisations have applauded the move.

The municipal hall website said that since the course’s announcement on March 1, 631 drivers have attended it in the hope of obtaining a driver’s licence.

The training courses are taking place every Saturday for two months from March 2 to May 4 in two locations in Phnom Penh.

The first is at the Driving Licence Department of the Department of Public Works and Transport on Street 598 in Russey Keo district’s Chraing Chamreh II commune.

The other is being held at the Department of Public Works and Transport on National Road 6 in Chroy Changvar district.

Neither department director Sam Piseth nor municipal hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey were available for comment on Sunday.

Keo Narin, 36, a PassApp driver from Svay Rieng province, said he had not yet heard the information but he has been waiting for such a chance for a long time.

He said he did not have legal documents as yet because he cannot afford the fees. “Today I don’t have a driver’s licence because I do not have enough money.

“If the authorities are saying it can be done and the course is free of charge, I think it’s a good opportunity."

“If we can get all the documents, I’ll become fully legal. When the police ask us to show them documents, we won’t need to pay a penalty,” Narin said.

Another tuk-tuk driver, Khieu Long, 41, from Kandal province, said he had heard about the training courses but had so far been too busy to attend. He plans to take up the opportunity as soon as he can, so he doesn’t miss the deadline.

“Before, I wanted to get a driving licence but didn’t have enough money. So I tried to earn as much money as possible so I could get the paperwork processed.

“But now they’re letting us do it for free, I will definitely go and sign up because if I can get a licence, I won’t be afraid when I see the police.

“Right now, when we see the police we are nervous because we don’t have driving licences. So we’re all afraid that the police will arrest us and we won’t even be able to earn a little bit of money to spend on our families,” Long said.

Coalition for Road Safety senior adviser Lim Sokchea expressed support for the move but is concerned that only a small percentage of tuk-tuk drivers will attend the courses.

If only some people enrol, she said, the authorities should expand the publicity and offer more courses.

“I am not worried that they will use this knowledge effectively, but I fear not enough people will come to the training courses. The authorities should strongly encourage and push them to go and attend.

“If there are only a small number of participants, we will still face problems. But if a lot of people come to learn, we can consider it a mid-term success. So how we do encourage them to come to the training schools?” she asked.

The Municipal Hall announcement on March 1 said: “Brothers and sisters, in the past most of Phnom Penh’s passenger transportation businesses have driven vehicles on the streets without a proper driving licence.

“In order to reduce traffic accidents, ensure the safety of passengers and to help everyone obey the traffic laws, the Municipal Hall has assigned the Department of Public Works and Transport to run Road Traffic Law Training Courses for our brothers and sisters free of charge.

“The courses are taking place every Saturday from 8am until 5pm for two months from Saturday, March 2 to Saturday, May 4.

“After completing the training course, you can apply to take a theoretical exam in order to get a ‘Type A’ driving licence.”