Editorial Notes

Bangkok's traffic woes require more than one hero: The Nation

Traffic along the Ratchadaphisek Road, a major thoroughfare in Bangkok, Thailand, on a typical afternoon.
Traffic along the Ratchadaphisek Road, a major thoroughfare in Bangkok, Thailand, on a typical afternoon. ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE

In its editorial on Oct 7, 2015, the paper says that the Bangkok governor's call for proof of a parking space as a criteria for car ownership is interesting but doomed to fail. 

Propose a solution to Bangkok's traffic woes and you get people's attentions. 

Start executing a plan and you earn praise. 

Fail to eliminate the problem and you'll be cast into history's dustbin amid jeers. 

We've seen it happen countless times, despite the clear and evident fact that there are genuine solutions to the chaos on the streets of the capital.

But, even if this mission is somehow accomplished, it will be thanks to no individual hero, because it will take more than one hero - and more than one idea. 

Plainly there is no quick-fix solution to the traffic jams, but we who endure the hours ensnared are all ears when Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra suggests a way of reducing the number of vehicles on the streets.

His plan, announced last week, seems disarmingly simple: everyone seeking to buy a car must prove they have a parking space for it. 

The governor also revived the idea of charging a toll fee for all vehicles entering the city's downtown business districts.

If the goal is to make citizens think twice about buying cars and to discourage commuters from making non-essential forays, all we need now is their wholehearted support. 

And that's asking an awful lot.

Bangkok's mass transit system is pathetic in comparison to other metropolises of the same size, leaving commuters scant choice but to have vehicles of their own. 

Not only is there still a mere handful of subway and Skytrain lines downtown, but there are none extending to the periphery. 

The public buses and motorcycle taxis are scattershot services that belong to a bygone era. We have ample modern taxicabs, but they're only helping to clog the roads, and their drivers continue to pick and choose passengers despite a new law forbidding the practice. 

The Skytrain and subway have marginally reduced the number of private vehicles in the city, but much more must be done before they have any real effective impact on traffic gridlock. 

There is, for example, no "park-and-ride" system, a commonplace in many countries that allows motorists from the suburbs to leave their cars outside the congested areas and hop on the mass transit for the balance of their journey. 

And, as for those hoping to prove they have a parking space downtown, fresh construction proceeds apace without any legal requirement for parking to be provided. 

Nor do the existing transit stations have areas to park. 

We are reminded of the "Bike to Work" concept touted by Governor Sukhumbhand (who is a keen cyclist) and backed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (who is not). This notion has prompted quite a few promotional events, yet the fact remains that Bangkok streets lack any truly dedicated bicycle-only lanes, leaving efforts to cycle around the city hazardous at best. 

So, while we applaud the governor for conceiving another possible way to reduce the number of vehicles in a city with an "official" population of five million residents who "officially" own six million cars, we cannot be optimistic about him succeeding. Those millions will continue to swell.

No matter how determined Sukhumbhand is to ease the traffic problem, he has no authority to put more (or better) buses on the streets, to curb car sales or to ensure that police enforce the laws. The reason the traffic isn't moving is because no one with the proper authority is moving. 

Who has the authority? The owners of the public-transit systems, the policymakers in government and the police could be our heroes. 

Drivers could help. Motorists, cyclists and even pedestrians could do their parts too, if only by cheering (or jeering) from the sidelines.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.