Commuters to help decide fate of BRT service

The Bus Rapid Transit system eats up an entire lane on Rama 3 Road. (Photo by Jiraporn Kuhakan)

City Hall will ask Bangkok commuters for their views on the future of the loss-ridden and under-used Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service before making a final decision.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang said on Friday that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) would let the public decide on the planned termination of the BRT service. The city administration needed 15 days to survey opinions of people whether they wanted the BRT service to continue or be terminated.

BMA would conduct the survey, starting on Tuesday, on 3,000 respondents from nine groups including BRT users, car owners, and police officers. The survey would be conducted by Kasem Pundit University and was expected to be completed by the end of this month.

The service contract expires at the end of April and the city earlier announced it does not intend to renew it. City engineers and councillors had studied the service and shared the decision to terminate it, the announcement said.

The 15.9km route between Sathon and Rajaphruek areas was originally intended to feed commuters to the BTS elevated railway. It was not popular with rail commuters and most of the passengers have been students and elderly people who are eligible for discount fares and do not use the skytrain anyway. 

The BRT service is running at an annual loss of about 200 million baht to the BMA when revenue is discounted against the cost.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon put a brake on the BMA’s plan to terminate the BRT service.

Gen Prawit confirmed the BRT was running at a loss and that private cars and motorcycles were using the BRT lane, which interfered with the service.

However, a recent survey found the BRT service was popular with the people who use it and many would not mind if the fare was increased by five baht a trip, Gen Prawit said. 

As this stage, the BRT service has not yet been shut down, he said.

Bangkok deputy governor Amnuay Nimmano said on Friday he had not yet seen Gen Prawit's media interview on the BRT service.

Currently, about 20,000 passengers used the BRT service each day, Pol Lt Gen Amnuay said. However, traffic was congested in many areas because the BRT took up an entire traffic lane. The number of vehicles using the roads far outnumbered the BRT passengers.

The BRT was the brainchild of former Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin. He announced the project during his successful election campaign in 2004. Work began the following year. Delayed implementation postponed the start of the service until May 29, 2010, during the tenure of former Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra.

The BMA invested 2 billion baht in the BRT and paid Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTS) 535 million baht to operate it for seven years, until April 30 this year.

MR Sukhumbhand halved the fare from 10 to 5 baht during campaigning for his second term as governor in 2013, when he was returned to office.

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