Boat plan struggles to stay afloat

Boat plan struggles to stay afloat

Operator applies promised modifications to only 6 out of 70 boats over 8 months

Eight months after boat operators promised major safety upgrades, almost nothing is changed on the Saen Saep canal landings. (Photo by Weerawong Wongpreedee)
Eight months after boat operators promised major safety upgrades, almost nothing is changed on the Saen Saep canal landings. (Photo by Weerawong Wongpreedee)

Eight months after promising a major safety upgrade on landings and 70 boats, here is what happened: 6 boats have been upgraded.

Early in November last year, this very scene led to a tragedy when 50-year-old Theerapong Silarit lost his footing and fell near the Nanachat Pier. His body was retrieved two hours after he had drowned.

This wasn't the first such case either. In April 2013, there was another incident in which the driver of the boat was accelerating so fast that it created a large wave in the canal, sweeping off passengers waiting at the Charn Issara pier. Fortunately, nobody was killed.

But the incident last year prompted calls for urgent measures to ensure safer travel for the approximately 80,000 commuters that use the canal boats each day. It appears, though, the boat operator has been slow to fix the problem with its promised modified boats. On top of the delay by the operator, passengers are also guilty of getting on the boats hastily.

The proposal to use modified boats made last year by boat operator Chawalit Methayaprapat aims to prevent people from treading on the sides of the boats which carries a high risk of accident. Transparent plastic sheets will be installed near the edge of boats to prevent commuters from standing on the sides. Everyone will embark and disembark using only the mid-section of the boat with steps provided for easier passage.

The solution is expected to allow the skipper and the fare conductor to better ensure safety for commuters. Boat drivers have also been told to wait longer at the piers, Mr Chawalit said.

So far, people have continued to freely disembark the boats from any point nearest to their seats, making it hard for the crew to keep an eye on all of them.

The safety plan seems to be a good idea as passengers will be funnelled through a single entrance-exit point that will be overseen by boat staff, said office worker Mintra Pimpabut, who commutes by the Klong Saen Saep boat every day to her office on Ramkhamhaeng Road.

"But I haven't seen any modified boat," Ms Mintra said.

Perhaps, she said, the modified boats come to serve commuters in the afternoon when the number of passengers is relatively low.

She called on the boat operator to speed up plans to provide commuters with new boats and said if its work is slowed down or restricted by a shortage of finances, the government should help.

Mr Chawalit told the Bangkok Post his company has applied the changes to six boats and the boats are already making rounds. However, he admitted the number of modified boats in service is relatively small, compared to the entire fleet of 70 boats.

Reconstructing the body of a boat is not as easy as that of a car, he said, as builders are hard to find, which forces the company to do most of the work itself. The cost of renovating each boat is also high, reaching 250,000 baht.

His firm and the Marine Department, which oversees travel on the canal, are surveying commuter opinion on the new boats. While passengers are getting on and off the boats more carefully, some complain the modified version is not as convenient as the old boats. Embarking and disembarking through only one exit is much slower.

"Many are still caught in the old habit [of rushing on and off the boats]," Mr Chawalit said.

A similar comment came from Pongpakorn Yooya, another regular commuter who takes the boat to his office in Pratu Nam area.

He said his friend had tried travelling on a modified boat, adding she says the seats are more comfortable and the space well-designed, which makes her think of the Chao Phraya Express Boat, a larger ferry running along the Chao Phraya River.

"But many passengers behave the same way. They still rush to get on and off the boat. Very few listen to [pier] officials' warnings," he said.

But if more modified boats are in service, they will not be worried about the wait time and may eventually change their behaviour, Mr Pongpakorn said.

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