No free bus rides by early 2018

A BMTA "hot" bus provides free rides for passengers along a designated route in Bangkok.(Bangkok Post file photo)

The free bus service will be totally phased out by early 2018 after installation of the common ticketing system is completed on all buses of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority, BMTA director Surachai Iamwachirasakul said on Monday.

There were about 800 buses providing free rides, he said. The first lot of 200 buses will be taken out of service in September, the second in the last quarter of this year and the last of them in early 2018. 

Mr Surachai said the free bus ride service will be cancelled because the common ticketing system will be  compatible with the social welfare service payments to low-income people using the national e-payment system of the Finance Ministry.

Free rides will be replaced with tickets for low-income people. The government will subsidise their travel costs by 500-600 baht per month.

The BMTA will call for bids for the installation and five-year operation of the e-ticketing system on 2,600 buses. A budget of about 1.7 billion baht has been allocated and bidders' qualifications will undergo a preliminary screening on March 27. Bids will be called on April 5.  About 37 firms have shown an interest in bidding for the project, Mr Surachai said.

Prayoon Chuaykaew, BMTA deputy director for bus operations, said the approximately 800 free buses in service were providing about 600,000 trips per day, or 43% of the daily average of 1.4 million bus passengers.  This was costing about 10,000 baht per day per bus, or 8 million baht per day for the whole fleet. The yearly cost of operating the free buses was 2.92 billion baht.

Although cancellation of the free bus service would lead to more efficient budget expenditure, low-income earners would be affected, he said.  However, this was expected to be offset by the government's welfare payments for specific groups such as students, the disabled, monks and novices, and the elderly.

About 7 million common tickets would be issued for the first stage of the common ticketing system in June, for use with the MRT's blue line trains (Bang Sue - Hua Lamphong), the BTS green line (Mor Chit - Bearing) and Airport Rail Link (Phayathai - Suvarnabhumi). It was planned that use of the common tickets   on BMTA buses would begin in September, Mr Prayoon said.

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