Smart solutions serve as a cornerstone for the future of transport
published : 1 Aug 2019 at 07:26
writer: THODSAPOL HONGTONG
New rail routes and transit systems will usher in an era of urbanisation with the help of technology, promising greater commuter convenience
A legacy of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government has been the revival of rail transport development in Thailand through high-speed train and urban electric train projects. These projects are expected to accelerate urbanisation in the country in a manner not seen since the reign of King Rama V.
The first wave of rail transport development was seen over a century ago during King Rama V’s reign, when an urban tram track on Charoen Krung Road began operation in 1888, followed by a railway line from Bangkok to Ayutthaya in 1896. While the tram track ushered in the first phase of urbanisation in Bangkok, the railway line jumpstarted urbanisation in Ayutthaya.
However, transport development in the decades that followed saw a shift of focus towards road development, which led to urbanisation and human settlement along these new projects.
Rail-based mass transit was reignited in the 1990s thanks to the Bangkok Mass Transit System Co (BTSC). After construction was completed, operations began shortly after in 1999.
Unfortunately, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98 crippled several train infrastructure projects, especially those contracted by Hopewell.
After the military-installed government came to power, it developed new rail projects. Among them is a 220km rail project linking three airports — Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, and U-Tapao — in the eastern seaboard as a complement to its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) hub.
Another high-profile scheme is the route between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima province, which will be extended to Nong Khai with future extensions to Vientiane, Laos and Kunming, China in mind. For the southern routes, the government has planned to develop a new high-speed route from Bangkok to Hua Hin, a beach resort town in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
These rail routes are expected to bring about the same level of urbanisation as seen in Japan when it developed the Shinkansen bullet train in the 1960s. With Osaka as its main destination, the city urbanised rapidly. A similar effect will be seen in Thailand along with urbanisation of the provinces that lie in between these new routes.
But in terms of urbanisation, the legacy of the government’s transport development plan is “seamless connectivity”, also known as the “One Transport for All” concept, a mass-transit vision introduced in 2014 when the previous government came to power.
The objective of “One Transport for All’’ is to establish a network of masstransportation routes — roads, public buses, rail, airports and boats — that link the country together, enabling commuters to travel with ease.
This approach will also result in a reduction of energy costs and time spent in traffic jams, and cut down on pollution.
Over the past four years, the government has also initiated the first monorail projects in Thailand — the Pink and Yellow lines, and a light rail route serving as a feeder system to connect the Skytrain and subway. Another project is the Golden Line, a small light rail-transit system in the Thon Buri area.
It is also developing and encouraging city train projects in major towns such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Khon Kaen.
These city trains will not just lead to urbanisation but also help develop “Smart Cities” — a concept embraced by cities such as Singapore, which has an abundance of well-connected mass-transit routes.
Yet, train infrastructure these days is more than just laying new tracks and operating the rolling stock.
URBANISATION TO SMART CITIES
The 21st century has heralded a change in the way we look at the term “urban transportation”, as technological innovations have shaped our lives in such a way that everything — from planning a trip to paying traffic tickets — can be done with a tap on a smartphone.
This new concept of urban transportation is now taking shape in Bangkok and is set to be rolled out to other cities such as Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai and Phuket, where “smart cities” are currently being developed.
This shift has been made possible by the arrival of Big Data technology, which has led to the development of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), in which artificial intelligence is used to analyse data mined from commuters to forecast trends, and even predict traffic.
Under ITS, information about traffic congestion and delays are collected in real-time and analysed by automated algorithms, which provide useful information that is used to manage traffic down to the smallest detail, such as when a traffic light should turn green during peak hours at key city intersections.
Traffic data analysis technology will also help improve public transport service timetables. Information will be relayed to smart transport signboards, which will display real-time updates so passengers can tell when the next bus or train will come just by looking at the signboard.
Bangkok is planning to install more than 280 smart signboards across the city.
As part of the development of the smart city idea, the government will install sensors and closed-circuit television cameras to collect and analyse data before sending it to smartphones or sharing it among connected vehicles.
In the future, autonomous vehicles will be connected with this transport data collection, analysis and transmission system.
Each connected vehicle will be supplied with information useful for both ensuring safety on the road and navigation.
All vehicles will also be equipped with an accident alert system for prompt emergency response.
Big Data technology will also encourage the creation of new sharing-economy businesses such as Ofo Bike, Ubike, Line Man, Panda Delivery, Uber, Grab Taxi and You Drink I Drive.
Another turning point in the development of transport technology will be the further adoption of smartphone applications, which already play an important part in people’s daily lives.
One can already hail a taxi via an application and pay the fare via a QR Codebased smartphone payment system.
Applications for checking routes and time tables of the electric rail system and those of the public buses are also available.
In the near future, an application will be introduced into the traffic police’s system for punishing traffic offences, which can instantly deduct traffic points from a violator’s licence.
Also planned to be launched next month is a new application to allow the use of digital currency and reward points to pay for goods and services at restaurants and shops at domestic airports under the jurisdiction of Airports of Thailand (AoT).
This application will also work at affiliated airports in destinations such as China, Vietnam, Myanmar, South Korea, the UAE, Belgium, Japan and Germany.
Points collected and stored can also be redeemed and traded for a discount on airport services such as car hire, taxi rides and hotel bookings.
Another important transport technology application already in use is the Land Transport Department’s application which allows users to request services provided by the department, such as car licence plate renewal, in advance.
The Spider Card, a common ticketing system Thailand is trying to implement, is another attempt to introduce more technology to the public transport system. The Spider Card will be similar to Britain’s Oyster Card and Hong Kong’s Octopus Card.
In terms of ticket purchase and payment technology, QR Code payments are already available on the electric train system and e-tickets have been introduced to public bus services.
Next to come is mobile ticketing that will allow passengers to buy tickets for all types of public transport services on their smartphones.
And while more transport innovations and technology are being adopted, efforts to improve traffic congestion continue to curb an estimated loss of economic opportunities of 11 billion baht each year, calculated based on an average loss of 35 minutes to traffic congestion per trip.
The Transport Ministry plans to implement a package of “tough” measures to combat traffic congestion, including raising the cost of driving in inner Bangkok by increasing the car park fees and imposing no-parking zones for private cars in certain areas of the city such as Sukhumvit, Silom and Sathon.