Bangkok’s Mass Rapid Transit Authority seeks BTS Green Line debt deal by September 2022
Amount owed for transit route extension has reached B53 billion
The Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA) hopes to have a deal in place by September to transfer debt from the Green Line extension to City Hall, MRTA governor Pakapong Sirikantaramas said on Friday.
Mr Pakapong said the agency hoped to sign an agreement to resolve the long-running issue by Sept 30, the end of the current fiscal year, if the cabinet approves the plan.
He was speaking after a meeting, chaired by deputy permanent secretary for transport Sorapong Paitoonphong, between the MRTA, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Transport Ministry to discuss the debt.
The Green Line extension covers two sectors: from Bearing to Kheha stations, and from Mo Chit to Khu Khot stations.
The MRTA carried out construction of the two sections before the cabinet in 2018 agreed to transfer the financial responsibility to City Hall for smooth operations of the Green Line. The rationale was that the original section of the Green Line is owned by the BMA and operated by the BTS skytrain operator Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTSC).
However, the MRTA still owes BTSC 53.32 billion baht for the civil engineering work the SET-listed company did on the two extensions. That figure includes about 10 billion baht in interest, and the total sum will reach 54.28 billion baht by the end of September, according to the MRTA chief.
Longer-term decisions on the Green Line are currently on hold because of the unresolved debt. The Interior Ministry has been pushing for an extension of the Green Line concession for BTSC for another 30 years, from 2029 to 2059. Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt opposes the plan in its current form but acknowledges that the debt issue must be resolved before any new proposals can be discussed.
The debt transfer draft agreement must be passed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Council and forwarded to the Interior Ministry, which oversees the BMA. The MRTA, meanwhile, needs approval from the Transport Ministry. The two ministries then have to send the issue to the cabinet.
Mr Pakapong said it would take about two months before the draft agreement is tabled for debate at City Hall as the new councillors were only elected in May.
Even more difficult challenges await once the debt is formally transferred to the BMA. The Interior Ministry has proposed clearing the BMA’s debt as part of the agreement to extend the BTSC concession on the original section of the Green Line for 30 more years after it expires in 2029.
But the Transport Ministry and Mr Chadchart oppose the idea. The governor is adamant that a maximum fare of 65 baht, stipulated as part of the Interior Ministry plan, is a non-starter.
The original sector of the Green Line comprises two routes from National Stadium to Saphan Taksin, and from Mo Chit to On Nut.
Mr Chadchart has made clear that City Hall would stand to lose on the proposed 30-year concession extension as it would be unable to lower skytrain fares to make the system affordable for low-income earners.
He promised to look through all contracts to find a solution to this complicated issue so that City Hall could have full control of the original sector of the Green Line after the concession ends in 2029.
He reiterated at Government House on Friday that the public would see progress on the issue in a month as he had promised during the gubernatorial election campaign, although he admitted it would be difficult as it involves numerous contracts.
“This is a delicate issue,” he said.
But Mr Chadchart said the ultimate decision would be made for the public benefit.