Pier-ing into the future of the Chao Phraya River
Design project targets three wharves that haven't been upgraded in decades, to make life easier for commuters as boat traffic multiplies
Property development is transforming land near the Chao Phraya River but one thing remains unchanged: A series of decrepit piers that lie along it.
The condition of these wharves, with their wooden piers and floating rafts, has not improved for decades. Only basic maintenance work to keep them safe for use has been provided from time to time.
Boat passengers can now expect change, however, because the Marine Department is commissioning the Urban Design and Development Centre (UDDC) to redesign and upgrade the piers under a project called "Active River Station".
Under the scheme, three will be redesigned. The design project will serve as a prototype for the Marine Department, which aims to develop the area around scores of others that it operates.
The three in question are Sathon, Ratchawong and Tha Din Daeng -- the top three in terms of handling the highest number of passengers, Tansorn Pornpanyapat, who is managing the project, told the Bangkok Post in an exclusive interview.
The piers are busy because "they serve as important connection points for boat passengers to transit to other modes of transport such as the BTS Skytrain, Bangkok's buses, taxi motorcycles and taxis", said Mr Tansorn.
"The property around them also has significant potential for more development, which would further maximise their usage," he added.
Sathon Pier records 20,000 passengers a day on average, 90% of whom use the Chao Phraya Express Boat. The rest use it for simple river crossings.
Ratchawong serves about 6,000 people a day and Tha Din Daeng sees 4,000. The vast majority use the ferry services there.
According to the UDDC's preliminary design, each of the three piers will be divided into three zones. The first zone would be the surrounding area, the second would comprise passenger waiting areas, and the third is the platform where people board the boats.
At present, each pier consists of a small concourse and a raft-like platform.
The design would make the second zone more convenient by dividing it up into two parts, proponents claim.
The first would be a space where passengers can check the boat service stops and times; the second would be a more relaxing zone designated for those who have already purchased a ticket.
The boarding platform will also be redesigned to provide access for those who are wheelchair-bound, as the floating raft would be horizontally aligned with the boats.
"Moreover, there won't be any hike in prices as the department is duty-bound to ensure the convenience and safety of passengers on the Chao Phraya," said Mr Tansorn.
In the future, some of the available space at the three piers will be leased out to business operators interested in selling food and beverages there, he said.
Three more piers -- Rajini, Memorial Bridge and Si Phraya -- have also been earmarked to undergo similar design and renovation work, he said.
Niramol Kulsrisombat, director of the UDDC, said the piers are in urgent need of this upgrade as traffic is expected to keep rising and land usage along the river will continue to change in line with the gradual gentrification of parts of the capital.
When the numbers are combined, the ferry services and Chao Phraya Express Boat serve about 60,000 to 70,000 passengers a day.
"These figures are projected to increase by 5% a year given the rapid growth of department stores, large hotels and city landmarks along the river and in nearby areas," Ms Niramol said.
This highlighted the need to further develop the 67 Chao Phraya piers that fall under the jurisdiction of the Marine Department. They lie along a 35-kilometre stretch of the river from Pak Kret in Nonthaburi to Sathu Pradit in Bangkok.
The same stretch has a total of 133 piers but some are owned by riverside households and others are operated by different businesses.
The UDDC started working on this project in January and is required to submit a blueprint by September.
The design process began by collecting useful information and feedback from a series of public hearings, three of which have been held so far.
The Marine Department and the businesses co-funding the project require the UDDC to gather public opinion from passengers and local residents.
The first forum was held on April 19 at Wat Yannawa temple in Sathon district and drew 135 people.
The second and third were organised on May 9 and May 16, respectively, at Lhong 1919, an up-and-coming open market in Klong San district.
About a hundred people attended each of those forums.
The UDDC said it will soon unveil its draft blueprint and has invited passengers and residents to give feedback and make comments.
More public forums may be held to gather more points of view, all of which will be submitted along with the designs to the Marine Department and the co-funding businesses.
After the designs are eventually approved the renovation work could begin sometime this year, said Assist Prof Niramol.
The boarding platforms at these piers will be redesigned to be able to provide access for people who are wheelchair-bound. Patipat Janthong
The Marine Department is going to give facelift to old decrepit piers for ferry along the 35km stretch of Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. The design and renovation scheme will start with three piers on Sathon, Ratchawong and Tha Din Daeng. Photographer Patipat Janthong