Union opposes use of public buses to block protesters

Union opposes use of public buses to block protesters

BMTA workers say public agency could be seen as taking political sides

Protest co-leader Patsaravalee
Protest co-leader Patsaravalee "Mind" Tanakitvibulpon and other demonstrators stand in front of a row of parked buses as they present their three-point demand to police near Government House on Oct 21. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) labour union says it opposes the use of public buses to block demonstrators, saying it gives the impression that the public agency is taking political sides.

The union was responding on Saturday to a request from Bangkok police to use 55 public buses to support their task of “facilitating traffic” at a pro-democracy rally planned for Sunday afternoon at Democracy Monument.

Labour union president Boonma Pongma said he was worried BMTA management might again comply with the police request and the vehicles would be used to block people from coming to the rally site.

At previous rallies in the capital, several empty BMTA buses parked across streets at strategic locations were a common sight. They served as barriers to force protesters to take other routes.  

The union had previously opposed such use of the bus agency’s resources and sent a letter of protest to the BMTA director and Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob. It reasoned the state enterprise’s task was to provide public transport for people in Bangkok and the suburbs, said Mr Boonma.

If the BMTA allows the vehicles to be used as police have been doing recently, people would think it was taking sides with politicians and its neutrality would be compromised, he pointed out. Its image would be tarnished and the misuse was against the objectives of setting up the bus agency in the first place, he said.

As well, he pointed out, the use of public buses on previous occasions had resulted in damage, a lack of revenue and an increased burden for the agency. He cited damage to bus No.114 which came back with a broken windshield after a rally on Oct 14. Some buses were slightly damaged with paint coming off in some places.

Moreover, the BMTA had to shoulder daily expenses ranging from more than 1,000 baht each for repairs and maintenance, GPS service fees of 70 baht each and fines charged by advertisers, in addition to allowances for staff assigned to take care of the buses, said the union leader.

Thai media quoted a source at the union as saying that BMTA director Surachai Iemwachirasakul had already allowed police to use 55 buses.

The Metropolitan Police Bureau sent a request to the bus agency for the use of staffed buses to facilitate traffic, starting from 10pm on Friday until the task was completed.

City police first made such a request for 15 buses for use on Oct 14. Another 41 buses were used on Oct 25.

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