Fares need govt oversight

Fares need govt oversight

The government, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and skytrain operator must settle the new fares of the Green Line service before Feb 16 to protect commuters.

The new maximum fare of 104 baht, down from the original 158 baht, as approved by the BMA on Jan 15, is a result of gross inefficiency by the agency and the Transport Ministry.

Last year, the BMA and the ministry were ordered to reach agreement on the Green Line ceiling rate. But they have failed to do so.

Without intervention from the government, the 104-baht fare for the 68.25-km stretch -- a drastic rise from the original capped price of 65 baht -- will take effect on Feb 16.

This consumer burden stems from the fact that both the BMA and the Transport Ministry have stood firm in wanting to have it their own way. After the BMA announced the new ceiling rate, senior officials at the Transport Ministry felt the need to attack the lack of transparency in concession granting, which has resulted in costly fares and damage to state interests.

Over the past few years, commuters have complained loudly about overpriced train fares, but no state agencies have had the guts to address the issue.

Meanwhile, the BMA, which owns the Green Line project, adamantly refused to take responsibility.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang, in defending the new ceiling, offered consumers a souvenir of consolation -- the reduced rate of 104 baht on the maximum charge. He did not state how long the "discount" will last.

The issue of BTS Green Line fares emerged in November last year after the government turned down the BMA's request to renew the concession of the BTS Group.

There are reports that the Transport Ministry wanted to merge the BTS Green Line with the state-built mass-transit system operated by the MRTA under the ministry's supervision.

Meanwhile, the BMA has its own predicament. The agency insisted that the BTSC get another 30-year concession when the initial one expires in 2029.

The agency owed BTSC over 100 billion baht after the train operator absorbed a large slice of the financial outlay of building and operating the 35-kilometre extension of the Green Line.

To win the concession to run the entire system from 2029-2059, BTS Group offered to cap the maximum fare at 65 baht, plus share revenue worth 200 billion baht with the government during the 30-year extended concession term. The proposal was turned down. Thus, the BMA justified increasing the top fare to settle its debt.

It is certainly true that the issue of BTS concessions is complex and needed level heads to handle.

However, there are more questions to be asked about the transparency of the concession-granting process, and fare comparisons with private operators and state-sponsored services.

With an extended network, the train service has the potential to be a solution for the city's notorious traffic problems. But the state needs to tackle the issue of overpricing as it is well-known that the country's train fares are high compared to the cost of living. Some pending issues, like a common ticket to provide a more seamless service, have gone nowhere.

So, it is time for the government, particularly Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, to step in, and herd both agencies into doing their jobs, as commuters deserve an affordably priced and efficient public train service.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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