Revamp bus agency now

Revamp bus agency now

The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority's (BMTA) plan to make manual ticket punching obsolete and replace it with an automated system ended in farce this week. After having installed the first 800 automated cash collection boxes on Bangkok buses, the agency discovered the new system was impractical. It thus decided to halt the planned installation of the remaining 1,800 machines.

The fiasco reminds Bangkok commuters of just how poorly served they are and how inefficient and incompetent the agency is. Similar to its ageing bus fleet, the BMTA itself has reached a stage where its management desperately needs a revamp.

The cash box plan is part of the agency's 1.6-billion-baht automated bus fare collection project that also covers the installation of e-ticket reading machines on all 2,600 buses plying routes in the capital.

Since October, 800 buses have had these cash boxes installed, but the devices, which passengers have to feed with coins, failed to meet the need for speed during Bangkok rush hours. Each passenger is required to insert coins one-by-one while others must wait their turn. It's a time-consuming process which leads to traffic jams as the buses wait by the roadside.

Faced with this problem, the BMTA decided to scrap the cash box plan, informing its supplier, Cho Thavee Plc, to suspend further installation, but kept the e-ticket system unchanged.

BMTA board chairman Nattachat Jarujunda has admitted there was insufficient testing of the system prior to the implementation of the project. Tests were carried out on only a few buses, when these should have been conducted on 40-50 buses over a period of three to six months, he said.

The agency has not revealed how it will settle the payment due to the supplier and whether it is obliged to pay the full cost for the devices. This failure demonstrates a lack of due diligence, efficiency and integrated planning.

The state-run bus agency didn't have to rush ahead with the cash box installation plan. Within two years, fare collections on Bangkok buses will be cashless and done via a common ticketing system called the Maengmoom (Spider) card. Even if the boxes had worked, these would have become obsolete with the introduction of the common card system.

Moreover, the BMTA is in its 11th year of handling the procurement of 489 natural gas-powered buses to replace its ageing fleet and is expected to complete the task next year. It also plans to buy 35 electric buses and 2,476 hybrid buses in the future.

Instead of wasting 1.6 billion baht on the installation of the two types of fare-collection devices, the agency should have made provision for an e-ticket reading system as one of the requirements to be fulfilled by the suppliers of the natural gas, electric and hybrid buses it plans to buy. That may have added something to the median price of the ongoing 4-billion-baht bus purchase project, but it would have still cost much less than 1.6 billion baht.

Prior to the launch of these automated fare collection systems, another BMTA bus revamp plan ended in a flop. After giving the fronts of its buses new coats of paint and new route numbers in August, the agency buried the plan immediately when it left passengers confused. The long delay in its procurement of the 489 natural gas buses is also depriving commuters of a chance to enjoy better rides.

The loss-ridden agency needs to revamp its management first instead of coming up with more flawed plans.

Mr Nattachat said the cash box project was decided prior to his appointment as the BMTA board chairman and he would not have let it go ahead if he had been in charge then. He still has a chance to improve the agency's performance by ensuring that its planing is well-integrated, its spending is cost-efficient and due diligence is accorded to every project.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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