More Green Line upset

More Green Line upset

With his strong work ethic, formidable education, illustrious background, willingness to engage communities and above all his earnest efforts to help them solve their problems, Chadchart Sittipunt has easily emerged as one of the nation's most popular politicians.

But great power comes with great expectations, meaning he needs to tread carefully at the onset of his tenure as Bangkok governor. Even a simple miscommunication, faux pas or premature policy promise risks stirring up trouble that can quickly be blown out of proportion.

Such was the case with the cold reaction towards his announcement on Tuesday that he plans to charge fares of up to 59 baht for the BTS Skytrain Green Line electric rail service, marking only a small drop from the current 65 baht.

That decision met with a frosty response from the Thailand Consumer Council (TCC), which insists the current concession permits single fares should be capped much lower at 44 baht.

Mr Chadchart's proposal surprised the public as it came less than a week after he appointed a respected legal expert, Tongthong Chandransu, to investigate the contracts that Krungthep Thanakhom (TK) -- City Hall's state enterprise arm -- signed with the operator.

True to form, Mr Chadchart was quick to clear the air yesterday as he convened a meeting with the TCC. He blamed the issue on a misunderstanding, and took pains to explain to the media his formula for calculating fares.

"The 59-baht fare is a short-term solution," he said. "City Hall has had to pay several billion baht while operating the line. For a longer-term solution, the concession extension must also be taken into account, because that will expire in 2029."

When grilled about sticking to his campaign pledge that fares would range from 25-30 baht, he replied: "The rate of 25-30 baht is not for the entire route. This is the average rate for a ride along eight stations."

Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) officials agreed that 59-baht fares are suitable because the extended routes are so long, he added.

This isn't the first time the public has had to listen to BMA officials and other politicians explain the logic behind decisions related to the BTS Green Line concession, ranging from an overly complicated formula for calculating fares to its bloated debts, or why commuters must suffer additional charges when switching from the BMA-owned Skytrain to the subway system which is owned by the Ministry of Transport.

Then, of course, there are the contractual obligations the state must obey related to private concessionaires.

But no matter how many times all of this is explained, the end result is always the same: commuters end up forking out more.

The question the public wants answered is when will the fares be reduced so they are affordable for all -- not just for well-to-do urbanites.

Consumers have been waiting almost a decade for a convenient ticketing system that works on subways and skytrains without incurring extra fees when one switches between the two.

Saree Ongsomwang, secretary-general of the TCC, said: "Above all, consumers just want to see politicians try to make mass transit more affordable. They don't want to hear them rambling on about concessions and how the state must honour deals in the private sector."

The governor must show City Hall his tenure will differ from those of his predecessors.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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