Sky-high prices and a failing public transport system

Sky-high prices and a failing public transport system

Sitting gridlocked inside a taxi while inching closer to the BTS, where my fate of being shoved around inside a carriage of full people awaits, I can't help but sneer at the large bright-blue poster displayed so shamelessly on the BTS skywalk. It reads "Krungthep ... chewit dee dee tee long tua", which can roughly be translated as "Bangkok ... A life that's perfect and balanced".

Next to me, a red non-air-conditioned bus is parked stationary, overfilled with sweating, dead-eyed passengers. Motorcycle taxis with helmetless passengers weave their way through gaps between cars, and I assume that the ferries on the Chao Phraya will also be dangerously over-capacitated as well at this peak hour.

There's nothing perfect or balanced about life in Bangkok, and it's only going to get worse. Within these past few weeks, Bangkokians have got hit with a barrage of bad news about the already-abysmal public transport systems. The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has increased its train fares by 100-200 baht per seat -- citing oil-price increases as the main reason. The Marine Department gave permission for boat operators in the Chao Phraya River and Saen Saeb canal to increase their fares by 1 baht, citing the same reasons; the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) and the Department of Land and Transport (DLT) joined heads in creating an unnecessary and confusing bus route reform; and to top it off, the BTS just announced that it will be increasing fares on Oct 1, from 15-42 baht to 16-44 baht along the Sukhumvit and Silom lines.

Hashtags of #BangkokALifeThatsPerfectAndBalanced in Thai appeared everywhere from Twitter to Facebook as a means of venting outrage and frustration. With the cost of living increasing constantly with no increase in income, the people of Bangkok are rightfully angry.

In regards to the BMTA and the DLT's sudden implementation of the bus-route reform: Why? They didn't even bother creating a public forum to take in passengers' suggestions or needs. The Prachatai newspaper stated that "the junta has consistently co-operated with the relevant parties, just not in public" -- simply meaning that people sitting in boardrooms who have probably never ridden a bus in their lives decided on everything. With eight test routes on trial right now, the public is rightfully confused. The government didn't provide any details on the changes, and even maps provided on their Bus Reroute BKK Facebook page are barely legible.

Rerouting is not the main concern for most passengers. As of now, the BMTA has 2,700 buses, some of which are 17-years-old and falling apart. With the taxes that we pay, at least we deserve functioning bus stops with maps and bus arrival times. We deserve clean, new, air-conditioned buses that don't have holes on the floor or spout out black smog from the exhaust pipes.

But the problem is, we don't know when that will ever happen. The BMTA, which has been trying to buy 489 new swanky air-conditioned buses, has dug itself a hole after giving the contract to a dodgy Chinese-owned bus-outfitters company from Bang Phli.

Of course, the firm was charged with tax evasion, and ever since, no other company has come out to bid to buy on the new buses. It's all dark for now.

In regards to the BTS fare increase: although increasing fares by 2 baht might not seem like a lot to some, the hike will cost an everyday user around 1,000 baht or more per year.

With most Bangkokians having no other choice than to use the BTS, it's frustrating that the company would take advantage of this to gain profit without improving any of its facilities.

There aren't enough trains and carriages to carry people during rush hour. Train timetable screens still do not exist. People in wheelchairs are still unable to use most of the lines due to the lack of elevators.

We can't even buy tickets in the machines with bank notes, and, weirdest of all, we can't top-up BTS cards with a credit or debit card. According to Forbes, the business of the BTS group is worth US$1.45 billion (48.1 billion baht) and they continue to make millions per month on advertising and tickets -- yet nothing is improving for the general public.

As the big men inside boardrooms make these decisions, it's ultimately the population that suffers.

And Bangkokians will never have "A life that is perfect and balanced".

We're being consumed by a black hole of apathy, incompetence, greed and corruption. And as singer Suthita Chanachaisuwan (aka Image The Voice) said in her viral and highly debated twitter post last month, "Thailand will never improve in 50 or 1,000 years from now. Shoot me".


Apipar Norapoompipat is a features writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Apipar Norapoompipat

Features writer

Apipar Norapoompipat is a features writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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