A toast to our world No.1 traffic rank
There is some big news for us Bangkokians, and City Hall should offer up a toast this week. Thailand, or Bangkok to be more specific, has once again been listed top of a global list.
According to a study released on Monday by INRIX Inc -- a company based in Washington which provides services and applications for road traffic, Thailand was ranked as the world's most traffic-congested country in 2016.
Commuters in Thailand spent an average of 61 hours stuck in traffic last year, followed by motorists in Colombia and Indonesia at an average 47 hours.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is an assistant news editor, the Bangkok Post.
The study said that out of the 64.1 hours on average which Bangkok drivers spent in traffic last year, some 23% of the overall time and an average 33% of their time was spent stuck during peak hours, wasting considerable amounts of fuel in the process. Based on the kilometres of car tail lights zigzagging on the elevated expressways and roads in Bangkok, I can certainly see how the company's Global Traffic Scorecard report based on 500 terabytes of data from 300 million sources around the world was so reliable.
But I was disappointed when I learnt about the results of another study, TomTom's Traffic Index 2017, released on the same day by TomTom, a Dutch company providing a similar service. According to the annual report detailing cities around the world with the worst traffic congestion, Bangkok came second with 61%, after Mexico City where drivers spent an average of 66% extra travel time stuck in traffic at any time of the day.
But should I worry that we came in second? No. I'm sure Bangkok will top all the lists next year. to do this, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has been on the right track and made the right decision to scrap the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service. This was a bold move, with low ridership numbers and constant financial losses being cited as reasons, without trying to improve the service and, more importantly, install a broader public land transport network to cover more of Bangkok.
The BMA had to conduct a survey on Tuesday to avoid embarrassment, after Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, out of the blue, told City Hall to keep the service, giving the BRT a bit of breathing space.
However, if this is only a cosmetic survey and the BMA is adamant about gutting the service without a proper replacement to move the masses, this will only pave a rosy path for the capital to maintain its championship position as the world's most congested city.
Starting in November, a few spots in the Lat Phrao area -- including the Ratchayothin and five-way Lat Phrao intersections -- were closed for the construction of the Green Line for at least two years -- without a proper plan not to worsen the gridlock.
Of course, the closures have definitely affected those living in other areas further out, including Don Muang and Rangsit as well as thousands living in housing estates along Nawamin Road.
A friend of mine who lives on Vibhavadi Road accepts that morning trips to BTS Chatuchak station will be longer, from 20-45 minutes normally to 40 minutes up to two hours. But he's fortunate to be able to spend the morning rush hour in a taxi. Another friend in the Wang Hin area, lucky to afford a car, only has to leave her house an hour earlier if she wants to spend 20 minutes, instead of an hour, travelling a few kilometres to work at Ratchayothin intersection.
Both, among millions of Bangkok commuters, have no other choice, but suffer the plight of being residents of the City of Angels where commuters, if they are lucky enough to own a car, are doomed to "live" in their air-conditioned environment a few hours a day.
What officials did was to warn commuters in the area to plan ahead and use backstreets to avoid those closures. But they never considered those taking public buses or vans who can never avoid the closures of their routes. Can their bus drivers take the backstreets too?
While waiting for the megaprojects to finish, officials never planned to convince commuters to give up their cars or park them in the suburbs, by providing car parks and shuttle buses to town in a special lane.
Climbing to the top of the list has been hard, but with so may construction projects, and no proper plan to tackle the millions of cars in the city, I've nothing to worry about. I'm sure the BMA and the government will keep up the good work -- staying atop the list and increasing the average number of hours which people are stuck on the roads just a little more, leaving the rest of the world far behind.
Looks like I will have a good reason to celebrate again next year.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.