BTS bid must bring benefit

BTS bid must bring benefit

Transparency and public interest must be a priority when the government decides whether or not it will extend Bangkok Mass Transit System’s (BTSC) concession for the skytrain’s Green Line. Last week, the cabinet withheld its approval to extend BTSC’s concession for 30 more years, as proposed by Interior Minister, Anupong Paojinda, following strong opposition from the Transport Ministry.

Under the proposal, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), as the concession owner, will offer BTSC a 30-year extension on its concession to operate the core section of the Green Line between Mor Chit-On Nut and National Stadium-Saphan Taksin, in exchange of BTSC shouldering BMA’s debts – which it incurred while building the Green Line’s extensions – worth over 100 billion baht.

BMA wants to integrate the core section of the Green Line with the extensions which have been built, namely the On Nut-Bearing, Bearing-Samut Prakan, and Saphan Taksin-Bang Wa sections, which it took over from the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA).

Under this contract, which is set to expire in 2029, fares are capped at a maximum of 65 baht.

While this sounds good for the BMA, questions remain on the benefits for the public.

Gen Anupong pushed the proposal for cabinet approval on Tuesday, without any prior notification, despite the immense value of the concession, worth hundreds of billions of baht. The proposed concession extension was made under the junta’s draconian Section 44 order, which was aimed at integrating the three extensions into a single network, thus boosting the total length of the Green Line from 23.5 to 68.25 kilometres.

According to the order, the integration does not fall under the Joint State and Private Investment Act and the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) committee.

BTSC insisted that that the maximum fare of 65 baht throughout the 68.25-km route will benefit passengers, who would otherwise have to pay 158 baht to travel the entire length of the line. However, the Transport Ministry has said that the cap should be lowered, citing the MRT’s Blue Line, which charges passengers 42 baht to travel along its 48-km route, despite having a much smaller ridership figures of around 300,000 passengers a day. The Green Line, meanwhile, saw from 800,000 to one million passengers a day before the Covid19 pandemic.

One may argue that the Transport Ministry, which is under the Bhumjaithai Party, has its own agenda in objecting to the proposal. That said, the ministry’s reasoning is worth listening to, as the Finance Ministry has yet to give its opinion on the matter. There were rumours that the issue was one of the reasons behind Predee Daochai’s abrupt resignation from the Finance Ministry, with sources reportedly claiming Mr Predee was forced to endorse the concession extension, as the proposal was put on the table by the Interior Ministry on the back of the junta’s Section 44 order.

The Prayut cabinet owe the public an explanation. It must assure that all proceedings were carried out in a transparent manner, with public benefit as the goal, if it decides to approve the proposal.

The Prayut cabinet must assure all proceedings are carried out in a transparent manner.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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