New bridge for Khlong Dan planned

New bridge for Khlong Dan planned

Pedestrians soon won't have to pay to cross busy canal, writes Supoj Wancharoen

A new pedestrian bridge that is to be built across a busy canal in Thon Buri’s Wutthakat area is not just much-needed infrastructure that will serve local residents. It’s a victory for ordinary people who stand up for their rights to access public facilities.

For years, Wutthakat residents who needed to cross the Khlong Dan canal had to walk through the Wutthakat skytrain station. But that cost them 10 baht every time. The BTS operator imposes this charge at every station on anyone who needs to go through its ticket barrier.

But an online campaigner named Khun Jay felt the charge was unjustified after he found out that the station in question belonged to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), not the skytrain operator. A few weeks ago he lodged a series of complaints on social media that triggered a huge debate.

“The charge places a burden on those who need to use [the crossing] — many are low-income people,” he argued. And since it was clear that the BMA owns the station, Khun Jay insisted that members of the public should be able to use it free of charge, the same as for any pedestrian bridge.

“If motorists can cross the canal without having to pay any charge on the [Ratchaphruek] road, why do pedestrians have to be charged for doing the same thing?” Khun Jay said.

He questioned whether the BMA was neglecting its duty in providing basic infrastructure for city residents by allowing the skytrain operator to impose the charge which he described as "unfair".

His complaint caught the BMA’s attention and it subsequently announced a plan to build a pedestrian bridge for local residents. It was also agreed that the pedestrian toll would be waived. But since skytrain facilities are not designed to allow pedestrian traffic through the stations without passing through ticket barriers, where it can impose an automatic charge, the BTS has resorted to a temporary measure — pedestrians must get a temporary pass before entering the station proper.

The city council’s subcommittee on public works and city planning urged Thon Buri district authorities to speed up construction of the footbridge, a move much welcomed by local residents.

Mana Pong-Uthok, a Wutthakat resident, said the bridge is necessary as more people are moving into the area — once just a sparsely inhabited green strip — as the city expands. Now it is crowded with real estate projects and condominiums.

Before the Wutthakat station was built a few years ago, local residents used a makeshift bridge to cross the canal. It was built for workers constructing the station who needed to commute between their camp and the construction site.

Residents found the temporary bridge useful as it made their lives easier, said Suphachai Kongphaisankij, 44, who has lived in the neighbourhood for years.

The makeshift bridge was torn down after the station was completed. And local residents had to pay to use the station, the most convenient way, to cross the canal.

The alternative was to walk a long way through orchards to get to a bridge to get to the other side of the canal — a trip deemed unsafe at night.

According to the city council’s subcommittee on public works and city planning, the new bridge will be used by about 1,000 people a day.

Led by chairman Nirunde Praditkul, the subcommittee last month inspected Wuttakat station and held talks with authorities at Thon Buri District Office which oversees the area. All agreed that a permanent pedestrian bridge must be built. As an immediate solution, the BMA will build a temporary one to help local residents in the meantime, he added.

Mr Nirunde said that people have been allowed to cross the canal by passing through the station free of charge since March 14 after Bangkok deputy governor Amorn Kithawengkul asked the BTS to lift the charge until the bridge becomes available.

The BMA has put up a sign at the station ticket office which reads: “City Hall is speeding up work on building a permanent footbridge across Khlong Dan. People who want to pass through Wutthakat station to the other side, please contact staff at the ticket booth.”

However, only a handful of people know about the free passage. Many have not spotted the sign and have unwittingly kept paying 10 baht to pass through the station.

About 80 people currently make use of the free passage each day.

BTS staff members have confirmed with the Bangkok Post that they were instructed to help people wanting to pass through the station to reach the other side of the canal and are doing so.

While the money to build the bridge will come from City Hall’s coffers, the BMA needs approval from the Department of Rural Roads which is responsible for canal bridge construction.

Thon Buri District Office chief Sakchai Somboonwinij said his staff had already talked with the department about the construction plan.

“We just have to wait and see what it decides,” Mr Sakchai said.

He said it would take a while for the new bridge to be completed as other state agencies are involved.

For now, free passage through Wutthakat skytrain station is the best option, he said.

Deputy governor Amorn insists City Hall had not been ignoring people’s needs.

However, he ruled out a skywalk or permanent passes through the BTS station as an option as it was not designed for this.

Surapong Kongchantuk, a subcommittee member, said City Hall should be a bit more proactive by assessing the needs of people in the area where residential projects are booming.

“A big city like Bangkok grows fast. City Hall should be concerned about the needs of people from all walks of life who have the right to be provided with basic services as a city resident,” the human rights activist said, adding that pedestrian bridges should also serve wheelchair users and cyclists.

A commuter contacts BTS staff before entering skytrain property at the Wutthakat station. (Photo by Jiraporn Kuhakan)

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