If you don’t ask the right questions, you will never find the right answers
– Some thoughts about solving the traffic jams in Bangkok –
For almost all Bangkokians (whether they have a car or not) traffic jams are a source of complaints and frustration. In the recent elections for governor of Bangkok, all candidates had their own solutions to the traffic jams. Most of them concern the improvement of the public transport systems in the city. Implicitly, all the candidates assume that when the public transport system will improve, become cheaper, more and more Bangkokians will change their behavior automatically from taking the car to taking public transport. This however is a big mistake in thinking.
In all the discussions about the SOLUTIONS to the traffic jams nobody analyzed the situation well and asked him-/herself which are the real CAUSES of the traffic jams. And although I am not going to deny that there are infrastructural problems in parts of the city that cause traffic jams, the main cause is a social or behavioral one. To be more clear: the way the Bangkokians USE their car, the way they THINK about having and driving a car is the main cause of the traffic jams. For a Thai, having a car is a proof that you have success in life; it is a symbol of your status in society. The more expensive the car, the more you can show off. And of course this showing off doesn’t mean you leave your car at home, but of course you have to drive it. Many middle-class Bangkokians finance their car in a way that borders irresponsibility. They take care of their car sometimes better than of their children: spending hours cleaning, polishing, just sitting in it, cover it (for what? For the snow and ice in Bangkok?). Driving a car is fun, pleasure and showing off your wealth. More hours in the traffic is not such a problem: time does not count so much in Thailand. Raising the prices of petrol: not such a problem compared to the financial risks they already took by buying the car. And: if you have a car, you certainly do not take the songteaw, the bus, a van or the train anymore, not even to the nearest shopping mall. If you finally have the car of your dreams you can not think rationally anymore. So: all those solutions to the traffic jams based on rational thinking of car driving Bangkokians (convenience, price/costs, shorter travelling time, pollution) will FAIL.
An example. A Thai student of a university in Bangkok complained on his Facebook page about travelling from one campus to the other. By car, it took him 2 hours (traffic jam) to travel from Charung Krung Road to Talingchan. A foreign teacher that also has to travel sometimes between the two locations answered him that he always takes the boat from the CAT building to Siriraj Hospital (price: 15 baht), walks 300 meters to the starting point of the songteaw and then travels to the campus (7 Baht). Travelling time always within 60 minutes, including waiting time for the boat and the songteaw. The student still travels by car.
Like I wrote in the beginning not only the ultimate love of the Bangkokians for their car is the cause of traffic jams in this city. But some other causes are also behavioral:
a. recklessly driving; drunken driving; speding;
c. cut off other cars, vans and buses by drivers of cars, vans and buses;
d. not sticking to the rules of traffic law (driving on the wrong side of the road; driving back on the express way when you missed the right exit).
Next to these behavioral causes there are other causes: the organization of traffic flows, U-turns (mention me ONE country in the world where they have these dangerous U-turns) and traffic lights (sometimes the red light lasts for 5 minutes, waiting car drivers and motorcycle drivers get angry and drive through the red light).
The problem of traffic jams in Bangkok is a complicated one, and anybody that thinks he/she can solve the problem in a few years is – in my opinion – telling lies. The problem needs an integrated package of solutions in which the change of behavior of the Bangkokian car-owners should be the central focus. Many cities in the world faced this problem (also this status-problem) in the past and we in Bangkok could learn from them. Some of the solutions:
a. not more roads into the city centre but less roads;
b. less parking places in the city centre instead of more;
c. parking fees in the city centre of 200 -300 baht per hour;
d. lanes for only buses;
e. stricter checking and punishing asocial driving behavior;
f. raising the salaries of the traffic police with 300 % and at the same time firing every police officer that takes money from drivers instead of fining them;
g. confiscating cars of drivers that speed more than 50 kilometers per hour;
h. building more middle priced condominiums near BTS ad MRT stations;
i. forbid financing a car for more than 50 %;
j. raising prices of fuel drastically and use that money to improve public transport;
k. making more, free and safe places for (change) bus and van near the starting points of MRT and BTS lines.
l. introduce radar based cruise control on busy roads.
I could add some more solutions to this list based on experiences worldwide. You see: solving the traffic jams in Bangkok is not easy and the ‘real’ car driver will not like some measures. But politicians are chosen to solve the problems, not to be popular. The car driving, car loving Bangkokians should understand that they THEMSELVES are the main problem. If they want to keep driving as frequently and irrationally as they do now, they should not complain anymore about the (growing number of) traffic jams.
Chris de Boer