New trains -- but at what cost?
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New trains -- but at what cost?

After 16 years of electric trains in Bangkok, it has been proven that travelling in this busy city by this mode of transportation is very useful. You can estimate your own departure and arrival times without having to worry about whether or not you will miss your appointment. But that's only if you're on the BTS or MRT trains, which obviously cover only some areas of the capital.

To expand the mass transit system, parts of the city have been closed for over six years due to construction and people have had to tolerate even worse road traffic. Now, the wait is almost over.

The Purple Line on the MRT will be officially opened on Aug 12. People, especially those who live in northern Bangkok and Nonthaburi, will finally have a chance to use the line, which runs from Bang Yai to Bang Sue (but it will only operate to Tao Poon station at the beginning) with a total distance of 23km. Other lines at different corners of the city should be completed by 2021.

There has been a public outcry that the Tao Poon and Bang Sue stations are not connected. The authorities are preparing a temporary plan to transport passengers to and from these two stations. A shuttle service is expected to be provided for commuters.

The recently announced fares for the Purple Line have also caught public attention.

Travelling along the Purple Line alone will cost 14 to 46 baht while connecting to the terminal station of the existing MRT at Hua Lamphong station will be 70 baht, with an approximate distance of 40km.

It doesn't sound too bad. But imagine a Bangkok citizen who earns just 300 baht a day who is required to travel to Hua Lamphong and back. He will have to pay 140 baht a day -- almost half of his daily wage. Last year, there was a report on about the fares of railway systems in five different countries -- Thailand, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Railway lines covering 20km were selected. Calculations were made based on purchasing power parity, as each country has different living expenses.

The results showed that Shanghai and Hong Kong are, in fact, cheaper than Thailand. Singapore and Japan are more expensive than Thailand when travelling over shorter distances, while Thailand is more expensive than the two countries when travelling over a longer distance.

Overall, the railway system in our country could be considered costly, although there is probably no better choice if you don't want to be on the road stuck in traffic for hours.

But what about those on lower incomes who might live some distance away from a station? True enough, they might still have to use buses.

It goes back to the same old problems that still cannot be solved, such as buses not arriving on time, poor service quality, careless drivers, bad mannered fare collectors and poor vehicle conditions.

Too many difficulties urge city people to use their own vehicles. With more cars on the roads, traffic jams continue and the problem looks harder to solve.

So back to the root cause of the problem. If public transportation is better organised then the idea that trains are for the rich and buses are for the poor will no longer exist. Wealthy people may be willing to use buses and it's also likely that lower income people will regularly use trains if prices are reasonably adjusted.

Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia once said: "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation". It seems like Bangkok needs more time to reach this point.

In the near future, people should be able to avoid traffic by taking trains. But due to the price, not everyone will be able to regularly use them. Living in the capital of Thailand, money can buy time. But a more efficient transport system will only make our money more well-spent.

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Pattramon Sukprasert

Feature writer

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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