City Hall will have to foot the whole bill to finance a free public bus scheme in Bangkok, Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt said Monday.
Mr Chadchat was reacting to Pheu Thai Party candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen's campaign pledge to make all non-aircon bus services free of charge if he becomes governor.
Pol Gen Pongsapat has said his free bus fare scheme would be jointly subsidised by the Pheu Thai-led government and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).
Currently, services on certain routes are free thanks to a government subsidy. The bus services are operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority under supervision of the Transport Ministry.
Mr Chadchat said taxpayers around the country could not be expected to pay for Bangkok's bus services. The BMA would have to fork out its own money if it was to provide free bus services for Bangkok residents.
Mr Chadchat said City Hall could finance the scheme by setting aside income generated from vehicle taxes.
He said the Department of Land Transport gives revenue generated from vehicle taxes in Bangkok to the BMA each year. Revenue collected in 2012 amounted to 9.1 billion baht, he said.
"If City Hall wants to introduce a free bus scheme for Bangkok residents, it needs to pay the bus agency by itself. There are operational costs and expenses," he said.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday called on Pol Gen Pongsapat to explain his free bus policy and his pledge to increase the monthly elderly living allowance to 1,200 baht per person.
He said the Pheu Thai candidate should make it clear where he would find the money to fund these campaign promises.
"He needs to spell out how much he needs so we can determine if his policy is for real and workable," he said.
Currently, the government provides a monthly allowance for the elderly, starting at 500 baht per person depending on age.
The scheme covers everyone over pensionable age.
Mr Abhisit also urged the Election Commission to examine these campaign promises.
"I think a candidate should take responsibility for their campaign pledges. Everyone should scrutinise campaign manifestos, especially ones that lack detail," he said.
Mr Abhisit also said a Bangkok governor should be allowed a free hand in running the city to ensure efficient development.
The remark was thought to be referring to accusations that Pol Gen Pongsapat is following the agenda of the Pheu Thai Party and its de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
Pol Gen Pongsapat, however, insisted yesterday his campaign promises can be implemented.
He repeated his pledge that he would seek cooperation from state agencies if any of his schemes did not fall within the governor's power.
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Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook & Manop Thip-Osod