By PHUWIT LIMVIPHUWAT
USING BANGKOK’S extended mass rapid transit system could be too costly for low-income earners unless there are support services in place, including a wider bus network, experts caution.
“Citizens living far from the city centre might shun the BTS even when it’s expanded to the suburbs because the fares could be too high,” said Sumet Ongkittikul, research director for Transportation and Logistics Policy at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).
Four overhead railway lines are now in operation covering 120 kilometres, with seven more under construction covering 173 kilometres, according to Chayatan Phromsorn, deputy director general of the Transport Ministry’s Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning.
The State Railways of Thailand Red Line under development will connect Bang Sue to Rangsit (Dark Red, 26 kilometres) and to Taling Chan (Light Red, 15km). The latter is now ready and the former is 79 per cent complete.
Scheduled to open in 2020, the Red Line is expected to carry 300,000 passengers a day.
The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) underground Dark Blue Line connecting Hua Lamphong to Bang Khae and Bang Sue to Tha Phra is 95 per cent complete. Hua Lamphong-Bang Khae is expected to open this year, while Bang Sue-Tha Phra has a planned 2020 start.
The Dark Blue Line is projected to carry 490,000 travellers a day, according to Chayatan.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) recently said it aims to ensure that a mass-transit ride costs no more than Bt65 until at least 2029.
The pledge came in response to speculation that it could cost as much as Bt158 per ride if the longer routes open without a defined price ceiling.
“Even if the price is capped at Bt65 per ride, it could still be too expensive for low-income earners, especially those who earn the minimum wage,” Sumet said in an interview with The Nation.
Even at Bt65 per ride, the Bt130 round trip would be close to half the daily minimum wage in Bangkok, which currently stands at Bt325.
“Even if the price was capped at Bt65, the cost for many citizens living outside the city centre could still be well above that, since they might also have to take other means of transportation before and after using the Skytrain or underground,” Sumet said.
These might include public buses or motorcycle taxis getting from home to the closest mass-transit station and again to reach one’s workplace.
Chayatan said the Transport Ministry hopes to add more “feeder” buses to move people from home to the mass-transit stations and from the stations to their workplaces or leisure destinations.
No concrete timeline has been set for this, Sumet pointed out.
“At this rate, it’s possible that the newly opened lines might not see as much traffic as expected due to the disconnect between the mass transit system and other public means of transport,” he said.
Use of the four current mass transit lines varies from 740,000 passengers per day on the BTS Green Line (Sukhumvit Line) to 50,000 on the Purple Line (Ratchadham Line).
To attract more passengers to the system, Sumet said, the government should provide sufficient transportation options in areas around the new stations. It could build walkways linking stations to nearby landmarks or add bus lines dedicated to transporting people from home to the stations at an affordable price.
Manoj Lohatepanont, director of Chulalongkorn University’s Transportation Institute, also called for an improvement to the bus network to support the new BTS lines.
“Bangkok covers around 1,600 square kilometres and the expanded BTS routes will only cover a fraction of that. So it’s clear that expanding the mass-transit routes alone is insufficient,” Manoj said.
“The role of feeders will become crucial in improving the quality of Bangkok’s public transportation system.”