Saksayam begins job with wrong turns
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob of the Bhumjaithai Party appears to stand out among his colleagues in the cabinet, as far as speed in performing duties is concerned.
In less than a month since the post-election government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha came to office on July 16, the super-active minister has occupied media space with decisions related to problems in public transport and state enterprises under the control of the Transport Ministry -- such as Thai Airways International, the Port Authority of Thailand, the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand and Airports of Thailand.
But not all his decisions are welcome.
For instance, he proposed a 15-baht flat fare rate for the MRT Purple Line train service between Tao Poon and Bang Yai and the Airport Rail Link from Phaya Thai to Suvarnabhumi airport, apparently to curry favour with city commuters.
Mr Saksayam's logic is that when the fare rate is cut by more than 50% for the entire route, more people will switch from private cars to the train service, which means more revenue for the state-run train operators to offset the fare cut.
Fortunately, the prime minister did not buy his logic and unceremoniously shot down his proposal.
Last week, the minister managed to win the hearts of many taxi drivers in Bangkok when he agreed to allow taxi fares increase by an average of 0.50 baht per kilometre, while maintaining the starting fare of 35 baht for the first kilometre.
He also agreed to increase the surcharge rate from 50 baht to 70 baht for airport passengers, as well as implement a 20-baht baggage fee for some trips.
Mr Saksayam is also anxious to put trusted men on the boards of the ministry's state enterprises and companies, such as Thai Airways International, the Port Authority of Thailand and the State Railway of Thailand, which are mostly saddled with huge debts but have expensive development projects pending the cabinet's approval.
It is not uncommon for a minister to have their own men run such enterprises. But the big question is whether the newcomers are capable of turning the organisations around and not being there just to make sure they get a slice of the cake in development projects.
But Mr Saksayam's most questionable decision is to put the requirement made by his predecessor for inter-provincial and suburban passenger vans to be replaced by microbuses by Aug 13 on hold. In the meantime, he also mandated an extension of the service duration of each passenger van to 12 years instead of 10, with new passenger vans only being put into service to replace the old ones.
Clearly, Mr Saksayam has the interests of van operators at heart and has little to no regard for the safety of passengers, who have to place their lives in the hands of the van drivers, many of whom are notorious for reckless driving and speeding.
According to the Safe Public Transport Travel Project of the Foundation for Consumers, passenger vans were involved in 236 road accidents in 2017 resulting in 113 fatalities and 906 injured. In 2016, 105 people died and 1,102 others were injured in accidents involving passenger vans.
Passenger vans are unfit and unsafe to carry passengers. They were built for cargo transport but, here in Thailand, they were converted to accommodate passengers by putting seats in them. Hence, the demand that they must be phased out from the roads and replaced by microbuses.
Passenger van operators have always come up with excuses not to replace their unsafe vans because they don't regard the safety of their passengers as a top priority.
The drivers themselves are also known to operate under pressure to meet daily trip quotas which, as a consequence, forces them to resort to speeding.
It is simply beyond comprehension that a first-time transport minister with a bright future has failed in his judgement and in his election pledge to work for the good of the people.
And the people here are the passengers -- not a handful of van operators.
There is no need to further describe his equally thoughtless decision to extend the operating service of passenger vans from 10 to 12 years.
Mr Saksayam has a great political future, but he should not spoil his career now with bad judgment.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.