I have a firm belief that a good mass transit system will spell doom to the automotive industry. I've cooked up a conspiracy theory that the Thai government and politicians secretly try to sabotage public transport projects to help car companies sell more vehicles.
To save time and money, I believe most people in cities would use cars less if authorities provided affordable, clean and efficient public transport.
Being a clumsy driver who cannot put up with several hours a day in traffic congestion, I usually take the subway, the skytrain, or even public boats, whenever I can. It is not about saving time and money. It is the sense of freedom from not being caged in traffic. Travelling on public transport also gives me the chance to mingle with people from all walks of life. For me, the quality of public transport speaks volumes about society and social attitudes.
Personally, I find boat conductors on Chao Phraya Express boats to be polite and nice. Good service also helps cheer up the mood of boat commuters. And there is the splendid view along the Chao Phraya River _ who can brood when they see temples, royal palaces, the Temple of Dawn and vintage buildings?
The subway is always my favourite way to commute. It does not offer views, but it has its own appeal. Imagine you are travelling in an underground hole like ants or worms, at a much faster speed.
Subways can be romantic, too. Some services, such as those in London and New York City, put posters with beautiful poems in the trains. I wish other cities would follow the same practice, and perhaps display public etiquette education on platforms or inside the train, such as the one that encourages commuters to wait for passengers inside the train to get off first.
Beijing subways do not have poems, nor educational infographics. But the city's subway system can serve as a model of efficiency. Besides having many routes covering the whole city, the fee is unbelievably cheap at a flat rate of 10 baht per trip, thanks to socialist-style subsidy. Trains are also clean and on time.
Beijing's subway system is also a laboratory for social equality. You will see beggars singing with caps in hands, or on roller boards or simply dragging themselves along the ground asking for money. Some of them sing with loudspeakers. People just ignore them, if not giving them a few dimes or more.
A few months ago, there was news of Shanghai police denouncing the beggars by posting photos of them on social networking sites to get public attention. The authorities are trying to ban beggars from the subway, but this policy gets mixed reviews from the public.
I find Beijing subway commuters try to tolerate others and improve public manners. They are not brooding or pushing, despite passengers from outside rushing in before passengers have managed to get out. There are volunteers urging people to form lines, and enforcing public safety rules.
But nothing reflects public manners and social attitudes better than public buses. Having a smaller commuter capacity and travelling much slower, public buses reflect social attitudes and the conditions of a city.
In Bangkok they are problematic, to put it mildly. There are buses with brake problems that sometimes hit people. There are irresponsible drivers, despite it being a highly responsible profession. Sometimes, public transportation in some cities can be a human tragedy in motion.
Public buses in big cities in China are generally safer because of strict government control. In big cities, bus numbers are sufficient and in relatively good condition. Yet, riding public buses in China is not without problems either.
Bus commuters can be intolerant to impolite behaviour _ mostly at youngsters who refuse to give up seats to the elderly, women and children.
According to last month's news in China Daily, a young man riding a public bus in super-rich Zhejiang province who did not give up his seat to a pregnant woman got five slaps across the head by her frustrated husband. It turned out the young man refused to do so because he was in a handicapped seat because he was indeed handicapped.
In the same month, a woman slapped a man on a bus in Shandong province after the man refused to give up his seat to her six-year-old daughter. Last, but not least, an elderly man in Hebei province reportedly sat on a young woman's lap after she refused to give up her seat.
Apart from saving time, money and the environment, public transport for me is human comedy in motion.
Anchalee Kongrut is a writer for Life, currently based in Beijing on the FK journalist exchange programme.
About the author
- Writer: Anchalee Kongrut
Position: News Reporter