BRT set to see upgrades
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BRT set to see upgrades

BMA hopes electric buses, expanded route will improve ridership

A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle on Narathiwat Ratchanakharin Road (photo: Apichart Jinakul)
A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle on Narathiwat Ratchanakharin Road (photo: Apichart Jinakul)

Bangkok's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system will receive a few upgrades this year, with electric buses set to start joining its fleet in July, and a planned expansion of the route in the works.

Sitthiporn Somkitsan, deputy director-general of the Traffic and Transport Department under the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), told the Bangkok Post that the department has signed a contract with Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC) to supply 23 electric buses to service the route, under a five-year contract worth 465 million baht.

"BTSC will procure the buses from China. The electric buses will have doors that can be opened on both sides because stops along Rama IV Road are located on the left side, while bus stops along the original BRT route are located on the right," he said, adding the buses will feature low floors to improve accessibility.

The route, he said, will also be extended, with two more stops planned for the 15.7-kilometre bus line which connects Sathon and Ratchapruek roads, at Chan-Narathiwat intersection and Narathiwat-Ratchada intersection.

The route will also be extended by 2km, from Sathon Road to Rama IV Road, to allow passengers to interchange with the MRT Blue Line at Lumpini Station.

Service hours, however, will be adjusted to reflect demand, he said.

Buses will only run between 6am and 10pm daily. More buses will be operated during rush hour, however, with services expected to depart every seven minutes, down from 15 minutes during off-peak periods.

The fare will be capped at 15 baht for the entire route, he added.

The BRT was conceived in 2004, the brainchild of former governor Apirak Kosayodhin, with a budget of about two billion baht. The project was launched by his successor, MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, on May 29, 2010. At the time, a trip cost 10 baht.

The BRT caused controversy almost immediately after it launched. Many motorists said the BRT, with its dedicated bus lanes, took up too much space on inner city roads, with some saying the scheme actually caused more congestion along the route.

In 2017, then-governor Aswin Kwanmuang conducted a poll to find out if Bangkok residents still wanted the BRT service, which found that despite its problems, most people wanted to keep the route. City Hall then decided to keep the service.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, caused ridership to drop from 10,000 passengers per day to about 5,000, resulting in severe financial losses. Pol Gen Aswin, as governor, also decided to offer the service free of charge to help residents during the global health crisis.

According to Mr Sitthiporn, governor Chadchart Sittipunt wants the BRT to serve at least 13,000 passengers per day.

"We want to keep BRT running to facilitate commuters and help them reduce the travelling cost," he said.

To ensure these goals are can be met in a sustainable manner, the BMA has decided to deploy electric buses.

"We estimate this will cut BRT's operating costs by more than half, from 19 million baht a month, to eight million baht. Besides, EVs are also good for the environment," he said.

Bunchai Chuachanwong, a regular user of the BRT, welcomed the BMA's decision to improve services and expand the route.

However, he said, the BMA must make sure that the new buses are well-maintained. The route has to better well-managed too, so people don't waste their time waiting to get on a bus.

"Many past campaigns to encourage people to switch to public buses failed because they didn't focus of improving services. I believe that if our country's public transport system is better managed, more people will ditch their cars," he said.

Sitthiporn: EVs 'good for environment'

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