How to fix Bangkok’s urban rail transit system

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How to fix Bangkok’s urban rail transit system

An open letter to Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt with a summary of the best ways to improve Bangkok’s urban rail transit system.

By James Clark
Nov 1 2022

As Bangkok’s mass transit system continues to grow, changes are needed to ensure it becomes a world-class transport system. The transfer and ticketing system that served the BTS and MRT Blue line will no longer serve a system that will have 10 lines by 2023.

The current system of private operators running their lines independently of other lines has to end, and a fairer ticketing system with capped daily spending needs to be introduced. These problems can be fixed (or at least start to be fixed) if there are laws set in place that the private operators must work with.

Enter Dr. Chadchart Sittipunt

Bangkok held an election for city governor in May 2022 which was won by Chadchart Sittipunt with 51.8% of the vote. This was an impressive feat to win a majority in a field with 31 candidates.

[Chadchart certified as winner of Bangkok governor election.]
I bring up this moment in Bangkok’s government history because Chadchart was the national transport minister from October 2012 until the coup in May 2014. There is hope among public transit advocates that an independent candidate with a transport background will make meaningful changes during his tenure.

How to fix Bangkok’s rail transit system

With a transport-friendly governor in the City Hall, I began this as an open letter to Mr Chadchart on how to fix Bangkok’s rail transit system. None of the fixes I suggest will be news to him though, so I list these for the public record of what needs to be done.

The Green Line mess

I have written about the mess of the station transfers, and the ticketing mess of Bangkok’s transit system. A mess that I haven’t covered in my “mess” series is the Green Line mess.

This is the most pressing issue, and the official government response can be found on the Chadchart website (in Thai and English). The Green Line mess includes expensive tickets charged by the operator and the “suspicions about the contracts” that were not disclosed to the public.

While this tangled web of mysterious contracts is being investigated, there are still things that can be done to improve Bangkok’s urban rail transit.

Integrated interchange stations

All interchange stations need to be connected to each other with step-free access and within paid ticketing areas. This will mean that all new stations going forward need to be designed with integrated interchanges, as well as a plan to retrofit old stations to meet this requirement.

Read more about the station transfer mess of Bangkok’s rail transit.

Unified ticket system with capped daily spend

Interchange stations can’t work without a unified ticket system, so launching the delayed Mangmoom Card should be a priority. Even if the integrated transfers aren’t fixed for years, the unified card can keep track of daily spending and cap the amount that a passenger will spend in one day.

Read more about the ticketing mess of Bangkok’s rail transit.

Accessibility for all

Step-free access is mentioned in the interchange section, but this should be written in law for all stations. In fact, any new building that is built in Bangkok should be accessible for all, but that is a topic for another time. There are some stations that are now being retrofitted with lifts and ramps on the street, but at the same time, new stations still do not pass the accessibility test.

Unified Branding

This one is a low priority but it is something to work towards.

While I was compiling a list of Bangkok transit maps it occurred to me that there isn’t an official map of the Bangkok transit system. There should be an official unified map and website.

[MRTA: “Help me Chadchart Sittipunt, you’re my only hope.”]
And while we are at it, what about a unified name? The official body is the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA), while the lines are a combination of BTS, MRT, and SRT. Why not keep it simple and call it Bangkok Metro.

A new hope?

Every politician runs on a campaign promising to fix a broken system. And to be fair, the other candidates who ran also brought up good points about fixing Bangkok’s transit network.

Will Chadchart be any different? His official policy page is a tantalising list of ways to fix Bangkok, so we live in hope.

Chadchart’s election win rode on the back of a meme-fuelled supporter base. So in the same spirit, I post my own meme in my call for Chadchart to help fix Bangkok’s urban rail transit system.

And if you are reading this Mr Chadchart (or someone at City Hall), I would be happy to publish an interview about your vision for Bangkok’s urban rail transit system.