Vendors decry BMA push to clean up pavements

Vendors decry BMA push to clean up pavements

Locals hang out at a street food space for businesses in soi Chula 42 of Pathumwan district, allocated to street food vendors and hawkers under the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's Hello Hab-Re (Hello Hawkers) project. Natthawat Wicheanbut
Locals hang out at a street food space for businesses in soi Chula 42 of Pathumwan district, allocated to street food vendors and hawkers under the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's Hello Hab-Re (Hello Hawkers) project. Natthawat Wicheanbut

Authorities have been working on making the city's sidewalks more pedestrian-friendly since Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt took office last year, as it was one of the 216 pledges he had made a month before he was elected.

The move was made possible following an administrative reorganisation in December last year, which saw 19 municipal heads asked to clean up several districts across the capital.

"When a new [municipal head] arrives, they bring a fresh perspective to the problem. When I went along the Sukhumvit area, I could see it was much better already.

"Next, we will clean up Silom," he said.

Under the plan, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) will join hands with the private sector to provide affordable spaces for food vendors in high-demand locations, so pedestrians can once again use the area's pavements without obstructions.

While pedestrians have welcomed Mr Chadchart's push to move hawker stalls off the city's pavements, the policy has been met with protests from food vendors across the capital, with many saying the cost to lease a stall in a designated area is too high.

Lease 'unreasonable'

A group of street vendors recently rallied at Bangkok City Hall to protest the push, following their eviction in an operation led by deputy Bangkok governor, Chakkapan Pewngam, on Jan 17.

Their main concern was the price of the monthly lease, which they said was too high, considering the size of the stalls, which they said were too small -- in contrast to Mr Chadchart's promise to vendors that they would be able to "to rent a space at an affordable price".

"BMA has set the rate at 150 baht per square metre per day, but one square metre isn't enough space to sell anything.

"This is unreasonable," said Natdanai Kulthachyosanan, a vendor at the protest.

The BMA had said the rate will increase to 500 baht per metre per day after two months, excluding electricity and cleaning charges.

"A vendor will ultimately have to pay over 1,000 baht in daily rent, while most only make 500-600 baht per day," he said.

Athinan Rodboonchai, a fried chicken vendor who worked in Sukhumvit area, said his livelihood has suffered as a result of the policy.

"I didn't sell here before, but I've had to move from my original location because of routine inspections by city authorities," he told the Post near Asok Montri Road.

"Sales aren't good here, so it has been quite a struggle for me."

Other vendors in the area who spoke to Bangkok Post agreed with Mr Athinan.

Fruit vendor Longboon Malasay, 59, said he has been evicted numerous times by authorities.

"I move when they authorities come," he said, adding he simply can't afford to lease a space from the city.

Uneven enforcement

Street vendors in other areas, however, say they have not faced the same pressure as hawkers in Sukhumvit, Silom and Ratchadaphisek, where authorities often focus their clean-up efforts.

Renu Seukeid, and other street vendors around Soi Pradiphat 14, for instance, said they have not been affected by Mr Chadchart's pledge to clean up the pavements.

"Municipal officials did not focus on this area; they prefer to check around the Saphan Kwai intersection, where there are many street vendors," the 53-year-old told the Bangkok Post.

Around the area, as well as many other areas which have come to be known as hawker stall "reprieve zones", vendors aren't bound by rules about access and space -- as long as they keep the surrounding areas clean and provide some access for pedestrian to walk through, they are allowed to take over parts of the pavement.

In addition, Ms Renu said, vendors must pay a monthly "fine" of around 1,000 baht to the district for using the pavement.

Like other street vendors in Sukhumvit and Silom, however, she is also dissatisfied with BMA's management of the city's hawker stalls.

"Nothing has changed. Vendors can still sell wherever they want, and management is not improving," she said.

Praise from pedestrians

Pedestrians, however, have welcomed Mr Chadchart's push.

Swift Assawamanta, a 22-year-old university student who regularly walks along Sukhumvit Road, said navigating the area's pavements has become easier in recent months.

That said, more thought needs to be put into the location of the hawker centres.

"The location has to be visible for it to be viable," he said.

According to a National Institute of Development Administration poll on improving and organising sidewalks, managing hawker stalls, and vehicular parking on Dec 4 last year, about 30% of respondents surveyed said Mr Chadchart has done an "excellent job", about 41% said he has done "quite well", while about 11% said he has done "a bad job".

In other areas, however, locals have yet to see a reduction in street vendors on the pavements.

"After Mr Chadchart took office, there are even more street food vendors around the school, mainly targeting western tourists," said Thira Sakonphadungket, a student at Prasarnmit Demonstration School in Watthana district.

Another Nida poll published on Feb 23 last year showed about 60% of Bangkok residents believe the BMA should allow street vendors to occupy sidewalks, while about 14% don't want to see any stalls on the city's pavements.

In response to the protest by the street vendors, Mr Chadchart said the BMA is still in the process of preparing designated areas for hawker stalls.

However, if vendors are experiencing difficulties as a result of the policy, City Hall is open to negotiations, as long as it is in the city's best interests, Mr Chadchart said.

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