By The Nation
The newly appointed minister was responding to widespread criticism after his recent move to change a policy passed by the last government that required that public van transport operators switch to microbuses. Saksayam made the switch voluntary.
His about-turn on the ministry's policy was because the operators would have to import microbuses from other countries at high prices, he said, adding that this could backfire on Thai commuters as the operators would have to increase fares to compensate for the higher vehicle cost.
Saksayam also earlier this month assigned a feasibility study to extend the use of decade-old public transport vans to a maximum of 12 years from the current 10, after operators demanded it be raised to 15 years. He insisted that control over the allowable age of transport vehicles would be stricter.
The Department of Land Transport (DLT) is currently tasked to carry out a vehicle inspection at least twice yearly or as per the vehicle’s mileage, so as to maintain a good standard and a roadworthy condition.
"Any vehicle that failed the vehicle inspection would be pulled off the roads, so public members should help by watching out for and reporting unwanted vans to the authority,” Saksayam said. “Complaints attached with photo evidences can be sent via various channels and we would proceed with actions until finalised accordingly," he said adding that people could also provide their input about public transport via various channels such as the DLT's Facebook page.
Criticism over Saksayam’s recent moves meanwhile continued as the Thailand Accident Research Centre cited that vans were more accommodating to the drivers’ wish to make more rounds or their habit of driving at high speed. That has made them more prone to road accidents, while microbuses, which are relatively slower to accelerate or overtake other vehicles, were safer, the centre noted.
The center's studies on various crashes involving vans found that, in the impact of a head-on collision, a van's gas tank and feeder pipe located in the vehicle’s front section would break, causing a fire that would cause harm to passengers who were trapped in the small space. In contrast, a microbus has more room to flee from flames, as well as large windows and an emergency door on the right side in addition to another door on the roof in many cases, and these combined increase the chance for a timely escape and passenger survival.
Although many vans were equipped with GPS, the data is not transmitted to the DLT, and so warnings could not be immediately issued to speeding vans but only after the vans reached their destinations, at best.
The centre urged that measures to increase passenger safety must be done simultaneously, namely improving the driving behaviour, the vehicle itself, the safety equipment, road and environmental conditions and other passenger issues. The Transport Ministry must not just focus on solving the behaviour of the drivers, said the centre.
Earlier this week, Sonthi Kotchawat, a lecturer on environment and public health at many universities, had criticised Saksayam’s decision as “unprofessional and made by an inexperienced leader who prioritises business entrepreneurs over the safety of public transport users” on his personal Facebook page.
Sonthi claimed that vans were dangerous and caused five times more accidents than buses. The vans, which have weaker body structures than vehicles designed to carry passengers, were being misused for human transport as they were built for the purpose of transporting products, he wrote.