War room set up to tackle traffic woes

The Transport Ministry has set up a war room to monitor and solve traffic problems following a threat by anti-government demonstrators to "shut down" Bangkok on Jan 13.

Chadchart: We will closely monitor traffic

Caretaker Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt said on Thursday the ministry would set up a war room to closely monitor traffic during the planned shutdown of Bangkok by anti-government protesters led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

The war room will be chaired by permanent secretary for transport Somchai Siriwattanachok, Mr Chadchart said after holding a meeting with relevant agencies to map out measures to deal with the impact of the planned shutdown.

Mr Chadchart has assigned deputy permanent secretary Theerapong Rodprasert to head the ministry's information centre.

The ministry would work with the Traffic Police Division to disseminate information relating to travel during the planned shutdown. The information will be publicised via the ministry's website: www.mot.go.th, hotline No. 1356 and Sor Wor Por 91 traffic radio station.

The caretaker minister said he has assigned deputy permanent secretary Soithip Traisut to see whether road closures by anti-government demonstrators violated any laws and to collect evidence relating to any such violations.

The ministry may face charges of negligence if it failed to take steps against those found violating the laws, he said.

Another deputy permanent secretary Chusak Kewee will manage cargo transportation and monitor problems affecting its transport to ports and Suvarnabhumi airport, said Mr Chadchart.

He urged people to switch from using their cars to the public transport system during the planned shutdown.

He will today invite Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, who sits on a Bangkok traffic subcommittee, to discuss ways of avoiding gridlock.

Meanwhile, people in Bangkok are also preparing for the PDRC shutdown in the middle of this month with some saying that a long seizure of Bangkok would be unacceptable.

Suwat Jinwongsa, a 61-year-old tuk tuk driver from Soi Aree, is worried about the PDRC blocking vital roads in the city, saying that he has been closely following which important areas will be blocked so that he can avoid them or choose alternative routes.

He would be patient with a short period of blockages, but if it drags out for too long taxi and tuk tuk drivers will take action, he said.

"It's not right to close the roads because such unfair action will have strong impacts on everyone. Our associations, both taxi and tuk tuk drivers, are ready to do something if the period is too long," Mr Suwat said.

Tawee Summart, a 54-year-old fruit vendor outside the Department of Revenue, is angry with the protests, saying that since the Government House seizure he had to spend extra time and money in transit buying fruit at Mahanak Market.

He said business owners with less income will be hit hard by the shutdown because it will destroy trade and ruin their small businesses.

He is also concerned that his income will dramatically decrease if road blockages prevent state officials or office workers from coming to work.

PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban said on Wednesday night that protesters will shut down the capital from Jan 13. Large groups of people will occupy important areas in Bangkok. State offices and the homes of the prime minister and her cabinet members will also have their electricity and water cut off.

He also asked for the cooperation of all TV channels to air the PDRC's statements. If not, the protesters will turn the screens of those channels black, especially government-controlled channels 9 and 11, he said.

Meanwhile, Wijarn Simachaya, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said his ministry will discuss how it will function during the crisis next week. He said state officials can work anywhere, even at home and there are many places outside Bangkok where they can work if needed.

Regarding the threat of electricity blackouts, he said the ministry has a supplementary power system should the main one be shut off.

Sakda Yubonwat, a 36-year-old office worker, said the blockage goes against peoples' rights and freedoms, but it would be acceptable for a short period and not for a long one as it will hamper daily life.

He will not use cars around the protest sites but he will change to motorcycles as they are more convenient.

Pitchanukul Chathamma, a 44-year-old motorcycle driver, said that the road blockage will not affect him. In fact, it could end up boosting his income as motorcycles can go everywhere.

"I need to just wear the protesters' symbols so that I can move easily, including around protest sites," he said.

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Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook and Apinya Wipatayotin