Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Bus lanes in Bangkok, whatever next?!

In Bangkok the car is king. The bigger the car the better. Sure there are motorbikes and some people do use the bus/skytrain etc. But on the whole, if you can travel by car in Bangkok then that’s exactly what you do.

Which is why I’ll be interested in the new bus lanes in one part of Bangkok (I can assure you it’s not something I’d normally take much notice of!)

The one that’s been opened (I believe more are planned) runs between Ratchadapisek Road (the Rama III expressway) and Sathorn road, just opposite Chong Nonsi skytrain station. There is a dedicated bus lane on the far right of the 4 lane roads, in each direction. The bus basically does a U-turn at either end and goes back again. My first thought was that car drivers, in true Thai style would use the bus lane regardless, but it seems that this has been thought of. There are green and white kerb stones to block access to cars, although this does make the bus lane rather tight, especially on the U-turns! And there are places where cars can still get into the bus lane, it remains to be seen how this works out.

The bus stops are enclosed and air conditioned as are the new buses which just run this route all day. For the first few months it is free, then there will be a 10 baht flat fare, after this trial period the fare will be distance based, between 12-20 baht.
One problem of buses in Bangkok is that, like any car they are always subject to the traffic jams. And if you’re on a non air conditioned bus with its windows open this can be pretty unpleasant. So I guess one advantage of this system is that there are no traffic jams, however as it covers such a small distance I doubt this will persuade too many people to switch from their car.

I hope that I’m wrong, but I fear that this is a gimmick or token effort to promote the use of public transport. Like so many things in Thailand, it seems to have been done in isolation without thinking properly how it can link up to other projects (ie: the “links” between skytrain and underground stations that were only installed after the underground had opened and are totally inadequate).

However, if the project is to succeed then it needs a city wide network of joined up bus lanes, not just a few random ones scattered here and there. Maybe one day there’ll be a ticket that you can use on buses, skytrains and the underground as is the case in many European countries, instead of having to pay separately for each journey and in cash. However as all the systems are operated by different companies, there is too much mistrust when it comes to dividing up the money.

Anyway, this is at least a positive gesture and I do hope that it succeeds and expands, we’ll see!

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