The perils of the commute
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The perils of the commute

A 50-year-old boat passenger was found dead last Thursday morning after he'd disembarked from a ferry on Klong Saen Saep at Nanachat Pier and fell into the canal. The tragedy has once again sparked public concern over transportation safety.

A security camera (it worked this time!) at the pier showed that the boat had yet to be moored properly when passengers started to disembark.

It's impossible to make a guess as to what actually happened there. Perhaps the boat was about to moor, but the passenger already made his way out. Or it could be that the boat was going to make a very brief stop at the pier and the passenger was in a hurry and suddenly stepped out of the boat. Or was it simply because of the passenger's carelessness? All this is hardly known conclusively.

One known fact is that nobody wants to see this happen. The victim was also one of the injured passengers from the explosion on the Klong Saen Saep boat caused by an accumulation of gas ignited by the heat of the vessel's exhaust pipe in March.

For this recent tragedy, however, the boat's skipper and the fare collector expressed their condolences. The fare collector, Pornchai Sae Yang, said the boat could not be moored as the first passenger who disembarked earlier blocked the pole. He then shouted at the rest of the passengers, telling them to not yet jump.

But if rules and regulations are strict enough and proper infrastructure is provided, chances are that risks can be reduced. Passengers will not be allowed to get off the boat before it completely stops.

This is definitely not the first time an accident has occurred in this canal. Another unforgettable incident occurred three years ago when a video clip entitled "Tsunami In Klong Sean Saep" went viral after a wave, created by speeding boats, splashed passengers waiting at Chan Issara pier. It wasn't just water spray that dampened passengers; the wave was strong enough to cause some passengers to slip. It also swept them away from where they stood. Luckily, it didn't drag them down the canal, or the situation would have been worse.

After the most recent accident, the Transportation Ministry raised its concern about this issue by considering measures to improve safety on the public boat service. For short-term regulation, captains will be forced to completely stop at piers regardless of passenger numbers. If the rule is violated, it will lead to licence suspension for both captains and service operators. The ministry will also talk with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) about enlarging certain piers to match passenger numbers.

Commuters may have to keep an eye on the policies as well to see whether these are the right solutions. But before getting to that point, it will be interesting to see whether the regulation is brought into action permanently.

The popularity of water transportation in the city seems to be on the rise, largely because it can help alleviate the city's traffic headaches. Klong Saen Saep itself has served as an expressway for those who live or travel in eastern Bangkok. The city is also surrounded by canals. Some academics and active citizens are trying to push for the boat transportation service to cover more routes, as it has high potential to link with the rail systems. But the concern over safety from the recent news may make people think twice about using the service.

The safety issue isn't limited to water transportation alone. On land, this can easily be spotted, such as when buses won't stop properly. Not to mention that in some areas they stop in the second lane. Whether it's because the first lane is occupied by private vehicles or it takes longer for the bus to stop properly, the consequence falls to passengers who have to stand in the middle of the road trying to climb the stairs and balance as the driver accelerates. So it's out off the question for people with disabilities to use public transportation safely.

While we all dream of effective public transportation and know that we should use fewer private vehicles to puzzle out traffic congestion, people shouldn't have to put their life at risk just to commute somewhere.

Public transportation faces serious concerns aside from safety. This month alone, there were a handful of incidents related to public transportation. The MRT shut down for two hours, with frustrated passengers seeking alternative means of reaching their destinations.

The list could go on and on. And at the end of the day, this is perhaps why some find it hard to change their attitude toward the city's public transportation.

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Pattramon Sukprasert

Feature writer

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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