The new prices are reflective of a public transport system that is run for anyone but the public who rely on it.
Yesterday (Aug 28), the BTS Skytrain announced that it would be raising fares. Starting Oct 1, the cost of riding the BTS will go from B15-42 to B16-44 along both the Sukhumvit (Mo Chit-On Nut) and Silom (National Stadium-Bang Wa) lines.
In real terms, that means a commuter who takes the train twice every weekday from Mo Chit to Siam will have to pay B1,040 extra per year, or just under B90 extra per month.
Compare that with Thailand’s legal minimum salary of B300 per day. For a worker on that wage to afford to commute the same distance using Bangkok’s most efficient form of mass public transport—and the only real alternative to road-use beside the river—it would take almost 15 percent of their salary.
The BTS is not priced as an accessible form of mass public transportation, but rather as a profit-making enterprise. The founder and chairman of the BTS Group, Keeree Kanjanapas, is worth an estimated US$1.45 billion according to Forbes Asia (Dec, 2016)—a fortune built on the BTS.
The same article also reports that the BTS netted fares totaling more than US$50 million in the second quarter of 2016—a seven percent jump on the year previous.
None of this speaks of a company that needs to be increasing fares—and ticket prices are just the beginning of the BTS’s revenue streams.
A partnership inked out in 2014 between property developer Sansiri and the BTS Group means that our trusted public transport provider also reaps the benefits that come from building condos close to stations. The 50-50 joint venture between Sansiri and the BTS plans to build 25 condominiums by 2020, with a total investment of B100 billion.
Then there is the advertising revenue that the BTS accumulates. With stations and trains literally covered in ads, there is barely a single point in the BTS’s operation that is not somehow monetized. When, earlier this year, crowdfunding initiative Asiola wanted to buy out all the ad space of a single train for less than one month, it had to raise B2.6 million. The BTS currently operates 35 trains with four carriages each, according to their website.
Despite this, the Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTSC)’s public statement on the price hike called it the result of rising operation costs, and the first of its kind in four years, despite contractual concessions allowing them to do so every 18 months.
We’re having a hard time figuring out how that might be, since every improvement that the BTS has tried to implement stands in a permanent state of limbo. Elevators remain forever out of order, with long-promised improvements for disabled users still to materialize. Ticket machines first introduced in 2007 cannot take notes, resulting in doubled up queues between the ticket machine and the cashier. The Mangmoom card, which would allow commuters to use one card and payment system to access the BTS, the MRT and the BRT, has been postponed indefinitely.
The BTSC’s no. 1 priority should be alleviating congestion on roads currently ranked the 12th worst for traffic in the world, according to traffic information provider INRIX Inc. Allowing Bangkok’s only viable form of mass transport to run as a commercial enterprise taking 700,000 passengers daily, in a city of over 8 million, is part of the problem. By comparison, the London Underground takes up to 5 million passengers per day.
A price hike of B1-2 for every trip is not the inevitable result of expansion. It is reflective of a public transport system that is run for anyone but the public who rely on it.