Gridlocked traffic, a packed BTS and sweaty buses mean our daily commute gets more hellish by the day. We spoke to leading experts to hear their solutions to this commuter log jam.


Amorn Kijchawengkul

Deputy Governor of Bangkok Metropolitan Administrator (BMA)

“While we’re waiting for the whole rapid train system around town to be completed, the BMA is focusing on sub-transportation options to support the main train systems. The current plan that we’re studying is monorail lines around Bangkok. The first of these monorail projects to be completed will be the Grey Line which will run from Watcharapol in the north to Rama IX Bridge in the south. There are also a further three monorail systems being planned: Phayathai – Rama4 (loop), Thonglor – Ratchamangala Stadium and Dindeang—Pissanulok Road. It’s all currently at the research and review stage.”

Pros: The proposed monorail routes do seem to offer an ideal solution to one of the city’s biggest problems: the lack of connections between different transport networks. The cost of installing a monorail is comparable to light rail options and due to its elevated nature it is potentially a faster and less intrusive option. The Grey Line goes from Rama IX Bridge to Watcharapol, via Thonglor, which should help ease traffic in this perpetually busy part of town.
Cons: Despite the potential speed of construction building these lines will have a negative impact on traffic in the short-term, especially considering the time it has taken for other similar projects to be completed—remember how long it took to open the On Nut to Bearing line. We also question the wisdom of investing such resources into a transport option that has been shown to fail in other cities. Sydney is perhaps the most high-profile example with their (admittedly limited) monorail system being forced to close down this June after 25 years due to a lack of users and high maintenance costs.


Orawit Hemachutha

Deputy Director of Bangkok Traffic and Transportation Department

“We will look to restore transport routes on four main Bangkok klongs (canals). We’ve already extended the route at Klong Sansaeb and are now selecting the type of boats to be used along Klong Paseecharoen between BTS Bang Wa and Petchakasem Soi 69. We are also studying the possibility of installing commuter routes along Klong Bangkoknoi and Klong Daokanong.”

Pros: Making use of the existing klongs would seem to make perfect sense as it requires little or no set-up costs, short of building the piers and buying the ferries. The current ferry services are also cheap and fast compared to other options. Being super-positive, it could also be a way to breathe new life into communities along the klongs, which are often some of the poorest in the city. Perhaps most importantly, it could be the impetus needed for a concerted effort to clean up the klongs.
Cons: While the idea of traveling to work along the canal is pretty idyllic, the current reality on the existing routes can be a slightly hair-raising experience. The threat of being trampled on by fellow commuters, splashed with toxic canal water or accidentially going for a swim are all very real dangers making it a less-than-appealing solution for many.


Surapong Laoha-Unya

Chief Operating Officer of the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS)

“The BTS is actually running at about 70% of its maximum capacity at present. During rush hour, it can get crowded as there are 50,000 passengers per hour per line but the system can only serve 20,000 passengers. To meet that kind of demand we would have to install trains with six carriages that come every two minutes, which isn’t really economically viable. Even so, we have ordered five new trains, each with four passenger carriages, and plan to install these onto the Silom Line at the end of this year. We’re also planning to buy seven more trains in 2019 to serve the growing number of passengers on the BTS system as a whole.”

Pros: More carriages clearly mean the BTS can increase its ability to carry more passengers. And more trains should mean they run more frequently during the busiest periods.   
Cons: The BTS is continuing to expand outwards, contributing to urban sprawl, while big gaps remain in the network in the center of town. BTS stations are already ill-equipped to handle increased passengers, with no obvious room for expansion. Just think of what an even more crowded Siam Station at rush hour would be like. It makes us shudder.


Chula Sukmanop

Director of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP)

“Our priority right now is to complete the construction of the Bangkok Mass Transit (BMT) Master Plan as quickly as possible (10 lines are due for completion by 2019). While we wait we are doing everything possible to maintain the speed of cars on Bangkok roads to at least 16km per hour at rush hour. To help, we are planning to re-route all the bus lines in Bangkok to better serve the BMT system—they are a total mess right now. As part of this plan, we are ordering 3,000 new buses, which will be delivered in the next two years. We see bus lanes as more effective than bicycle lanes as they can transport more people at one time while a bike can take only 1-2.”

Pros: The current bus system carries one million people a day making it by far the most popular form of transport for commuters in Bangkok, outside of private cars. Improving the routes so they offer better connectivity and introducing new buses that are actually comfortable and safe could attract more people to take the bus. That’s a good thing, too, as they are one of the most economic, efficient and environmentally-friendly public transport solutions.
Cons: One of the biggest issues with the way the buses currently operate is that they still have to share congested roads with the millions of private cars and motorcycles, so they don’t present a quicker or more practical solution. The implementation of bus lanes has been proved to be effective around the world as it means buses can travel at faster than average speeds than other vehicles. Trouble is other road users need to respect the rules and not use those lanes as well, an issue that has afflicted the much-criticised BRT system. Still there are plans to spend an additional B1billion on traffic cameras, which may help keep drivers in line.


Dr. Sorawit Narupiti

Head of Civil Engineering Department, Chulalongkorn University

“Building new tunnels and bridges can definitely help solve the traffic crisis. After all, dealing with the problem at one spot can help reduce bottlenecks elsewhere. It affects the whole system. New roads that are built to act as short-cuts can also reduce pollution and save a lot of energy, too, as people aren’t stuck burning gas on the road. The problem is many such projects are stopped due to opposition from local communities.”

Pros: Reducing the number of bottlenecks across the river is obviously a good thing. Also increasing the number of access points to the Thonburi side of the river makes it a more appealing place to live and do business, and can help spur development.
Cons: Most of the experts we talked to already admitted that there was not enough land to build roads. Bridges need a lot of space and would force many residents to relocate to accommodate the construction, destroying communities, reducing the already scarce green space in the city and increasing pollution levels in those areas. It also doesn’t discourage people from getting in their cars, so doesn’t really fix the over riding problem of too many vehicles on the roads.


Amorn Kijchawengkul

Deputy Governor of Bangkok Metropolitan Administrator (BMA)

“Last Mile is the concept that we are currently developing to help get people to their final destination after being dropped off from the main transport network such as the BTS or bus. This is the idea behind the Pun Pun rental bicycle stations. We have already implemented nine stations and are hoping that a total of 50 such stations will be available in the inner city area this year. That means a total of 500 bicycles available for commuters to use.”

Pros: Bicycles are clearly the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly solution to get from A to B. Making more bikes available is definitely a good thing as it not only persuades more people to get back in the saddle but also hopefully means other road users get more bicycle savvy.
Cons: A good idea in practice, the reality of the Pun Pun system is less attractive. For starters, most of the current stations are in central downtown, locations that are already pretty easy to get to by existing public transport. While bikes are a great way to get from the main transport hubs deeper into the sois, the lack of sub stations in these sois mean you might end up paying for a bicycle to sit doing nothing outside your final destination. Also, while cheap, the B320 initial fee for membership might just put off many people from giving the service a try.


Leave a Comment