Long-suffering Bangkok commuters would be forgiven for feeling left out of the planning mix, despite all the promises made during the recent governor election, but some consolation is heading their way in the form of a revived water transport system.
A passenger boat travels along Khlong Saen Saep’s new boat service route, which links Wat Sibunrueang in Bang Kapi district and Min Buri district in eastern Bangkok. Almost 20,000 people have used the service since January. PHOTOS BY PATTANAPONG HIRANARD
Boat passengers board a boat at Talat Min Buri Pier. The boat service will be free of charge during a trial period which will end on Aug 13.
Gridlocked in the morning, gridlocked during the day and gridlocked at night, Bangkok's roads promise only more problems with additional cars and lane-blocking electric rail construction.
But with the situation looking dire, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has begun to experiment with new canal transport which was once a pleasing feature of the capital in the days when it was known as the "Venice of the East".
City Hall is encouraging commuters to use the canals by making water transport more attractive with new routes and more pleasant riverside views.
One new route on Khlong Saen Saep linking Wat Sibunrueang in Bang Kapi district and Min Buri district in eastern Bangkok has been opened since Jan 15.
The city, which is testing the efficiency of the route, will offer people free rides until Aug 13 during which passengers' views of water transport will be gathered.
"After seven months of this trial, we will evaluate whether people using this route give a good or a bad response to it," said Amorn Kitchawengkul, managing-director of Krungthep Thanakom Co (KT).
"The findings will be forwarded to the new city administrators who will consider what to do next with this route."
KT, the BMA's business arm, has been assigned to run the route. It has hired a private company running 10 boats, each of which can accommodate 60 passengers.
The boats, which run from 6am to 9am and 4pm to 7.30pm, stop at 14 piers along the 11km route, starting from Phrommit Phitthaya School in Bang Kapi district to Min Buri market and Min Buri district.
According to KT's observations so far, almost 20,000 people, mostly workers, used the service between Jan 15 and March 20. The maximum number of passengers in one day was 940.
However, the numbers are not the only data that KT wants to collect.
"We want to know what we may lack to encourage people to use the service as much as possible," Mr Amorn added.
The city is aware that it needs to open more canal routes and conveniences to convince people that boats can replace cars. Yet to make water transport even more attractive, it needs to improve the scenery along the canals.
The officials have switched their attention to this project with workshops involving residents of canal-side communities to educate them and exchange views of how they can help the city draw people to water transport, according to Orawit Hemachutha, deputy chief of the city's traffic and transport office.
On March 17, more than 100 members of the communities were invited to meet and talk with experts on issues ranging from ways to solve traffic congestion to how to make their homes more pleasant to people in their communities and passers-by in the canals.
Six communities located along Khlong Saen Saep, Khlong Phra Khanong and Khlong Prawet Burirom are using advice from the workshop to improve and beautify areas of their districts and will show the results of their efforts in a competition.
The winner will be announced at a second meeting on March 30. Villagers will be awarded 50,000 baht in cash to be used to further develop their community, Mr Orawit said.
This activity is expected to help the city encourage more people to travel by boat transport which is being developed under a 12-year canal commuting scheme.
If the Wat Sibunrueang-Min Buri boat service is given the green light by city administrators, it will be the first route to link the existing Phan Fa Bridge-Wat Sibunrueang ride on Khlong Saen Saep.
The 18km route, connecting the bridge near Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, Pratunam and Wat Sibunrueang, has been open since 1990 and is now a popular form of travel among city folk with the service reaching 100,000 trips a day.
Such routes as Wat Sibunrueang-Min Buri are part of the city's choice for canal transport under the first phase of its 12-year scheme, which aims to improve or re-establish routes in places like Khlong Saen Saep, Khlong Phra Khanong, Khlong Bangkok Yai, Khlong Bangkok Noi and Khlong Phasi Charoen over the next four years.
In the second phase (2018- 2025), the city plans to link canal transport with the electric rail systems.
The BMA hopes the project will lead to more use of the capital's 1,161 canals which were the main - and fastest - form of transport for Bangkok residents a hundred years ago.
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- Writer: Supoj Wancharoen