With his solid, well-paid job at a private hospital, Dr Sukamon Wipaweeponkul has every reason to own a car. Going against social expectations, however, he chooses not to.
Sukamon, Chief of the Psychiatric Division of Phyathai 2 Hospital, said the rising number of cars is becoming a tough problem every city commuter confronts. The majority of new vehicles are due to last year's first-car tax rebate policy.
"This policy only boosts the demand for cars and makes commuters more dependent on them," said Sukamon. The psychiatrist, who can't drive, has relied on his bicycles and public transport for the past seven years.
The 48-year-old psychiatrist chose to move into a house in the city that was easily accessible by public transport. Welcoming the cars of his friends and relatives from time to time, the parking space on the ground floor houses his five bicycles including one folding bike for short-distance rides, one mountain bike and one touring bike for longer routes.
Sukamon is encouraging Bangkok commuters to live an independent life and not rely on the unpredictable traffic. Unlike car drivers who have to try their luck with the traffic every time they sit behind the wheel, independent commuters should be able to rely on themselves or the predictable public transport system.
For Sukamon, life is perfect when it's safe and predictable. He recently missed a domestic flight because his taxi got stuck on the expressway. Since then, he's minimised the use of road transport that could get him stuck in the gridlocked traffic.
From his house, about a five-minute walk from BTS Krung Thonburi, Sukamon can get to work _ with public transport such as electric trains _ in the Sanam Pao area in 45 minutes, and to Suvarnabhumi airport in about 60-95 minutes. And on weekends it takes him less than 60 minutes to cycle to see his mother who lives near Wat Kalaya.
Motorcycle taxis could be a popular option for commuters, but Sukamon doesn't rely on strangers. If cycling in the city is considered dangerous, at least it's under your control. "Why would you want to put your life in a motorcycle taxi driver's hands?"
Sukamon may be considered lucky being able to afford a house in the city. But that was by choice. The psychiatrist could have afforded a large house with a big garden, but that would put him in the city outskirts where it's not possible to travel around with public transport and he'd have to rely on a car.
"I don't want to put myself in a situation that makes me need a car," he said.
As a child living near Wat Kalaya, he got around by bus. As a medical student at Khon Kaen University, he travelled around on a motorcycle. He used the same mode of transport when he moved to Bangkok to work as a psychiatrist after graduating. Growing up in a garage near Wat Kalaya where his father was the owner and head technician, Sukamon became familiar with the sight of broken-down cars. This created a negative perception of the vehicles. His father also spoke frequently about dishonest technicians who tried to cheat customers who had no idea about car engines.
"It gave me the impression that cars were high maintenance and cost a fortune to own and run," he said, recalling that his father's garage was never empty. The garage later closed down as neither he nor his four siblings were interested in continuing the family business.
After seven years of serious cycling, Sukamon was not only able to shed weight and keep it under control, but he was also able to reduce medication for his high-blood pressure that he inherited from his parents.
In his view, cycling not only improves health, but can also boost the economy. And using public transport is a way to distribute the income to every part of society.
"Driving your own car and buying the petrol to fill your gas tank will only give money to the giant entrepreneurs."
Sukamon hopes to see more government support for bicycling. Instead of the first-car tax rebate, the government should introduce a first-bicycle tax rebate for city commuters, or offer payments in instalments for low-income earners. More importantly, to make bicycles more affordable for all, the import tax should be reduced from the current 30%.
He also hopes the Bangkok governor continues his plan to improve the cycling infrastructure in the capital as promised, including a proper bike lane and ring route that connects inner and outer Bangkok.
"That's how the government and the BMA should support commuters," he said.
About the author
- Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai