Row intensifies over price hike for Green Line extension

Bangkok’s governor was criticized Friday for saying that a Sky Train ticket that amounted to almost one third of the country’s daily minimum wage is not expensive for most people.

Asawin Kwanmuang said Thursday that increasing the ceiling price of the Green Line was the only way to cover the costs of operation. This was why the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) was not going to follow a request by the Parliamentary Committee on Transport to delay the price hike, he said.

However, out of five people interviewed by Thai Enquirer, all of them said that the new ceiling price is going to be expensive.

“Out of 15,000 per month [income], I already have to pay 4,400 baht per month for transport. Wouldn’t it be cheaper for me just to buy a car [if prices go up]?” a man aged around 30 told Thai Enquirer.

The minimum daily wage in Bangkok is 331 baht per day while the average salary for a bachelor’s-degree holder with no job experience is around 14,000 to 15,000 per month.

“How would underprivileged people be able to use the service if it is going to be that expensive? Wouldn’t the public motorbike be cheaper then?” a female university student in her early 20s said.

“I have been on less expensive skytrains in many other countries, this is outrageous pricing for a country with a minimum wage of around 300 baht,” another young man told Thai Enquirer.

But Asawin insisted that the BMA would allow the Bangkok Mass Transit System to go ahead with the hike unless the government’s cabinet says otherwise.

“If we delay it, where are we going to get the money to pay for the private sector?” he told reporters.

He said that the new ceiling price for the Green Line is proportionate to the ceiling prices of other electric rail lines, where the Metropolitan Rapid Transit’s Blue Line charges 1.62 baht per kilometre compared to the Green Line’s 1.23 baht.

He also said that the government has spent more than 100 billion baht to support the construction of other electric rail lines but has not contributed a single baht for the construction of the Green Line.

Asawin said everything was done in accordance with the law, and if anyone thinks otherwise they were welcome to file a complaint with the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Sophon Saram, a Bhumjaithai Party MP and head of the Parliamentary Transport Committee, said on Thursday that the committee had unanimously voted against extending the concession on the rail line, which is coming to an end in nine years.

He said the committee agreed that related agencies have failed to provide enough reasons why the extension of the concession would benefit the people and the state. There was also enough time to reconsider the deadline in coming years, he said.

The committee also suggested that the BMA delay the increase of the ceiling price to travel the new extended length of the route, which is currently set at 65 baht but is expected to be increased to 104 baht on February 16.

They said there is still a lack of clarity on the pricing, with related agencies yet to clarify how the fare ceiling price was set at 65 baht in the first place. The Committee wants the BMA to hold the hike until there is more clarification, he said.

In New York, riding the subway costs around USD 2.75 (82.50 baht) for most riders while the city’s minimum wage is around USD 12.50 (375 baht) an hour.

The starting price of the MTR fare in Hong Kong is HK$3.5 (14 baht) per adult compared to the BTS’s 15-16 baht but the minimum wage in Hong Kong is HK$37.5 (145 baht) per hour.

Atavit Suwannapakdee, the secretary-general of the Kla Party, posted on his social media page on Friday that the 104-baht pricing is “unfair” and he agreed with the Parliamentary Transport Committee that the extension of the concession should be hold for now.

“The government can still negotiate and if the company continues to be stingy, we can settle the score when comes to the auction for the Orange Line,” he said.

In November, the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) had indefinitely postponed the bids for the construction of the Orange Line’s western extension as the BTS claimed that the new bidding term that the regulator came up with, worth 140 billion baht, could lead to unfair competition.

“The Orange Line will be the main turning point because both providers of underground and the skytrain are eyeing it since the line passes through the heart of the capital, and whoever wins it will become the number one company in Bangkok’s rail system,” he said.

Atavit said it was not appropriate to reason that longer rides should be proportionately more expensive. Trains could not be compared to taxis, he said, which only carry one or two passengers compared to the hundreds of commuters carried by each train.

“The higher the numbers of passengers, the less expensive train tickets should be,” he said.

“With the new pricing, the price per kilometre of the Green Line will be more expensive than most trains in London, Hong Kong and Singapore,” he added.

Atavit said the structure of the pricing for MRT and BTS trains should be reconsidered and the government should procure more electric buses to help combat the air pollution problem in the capital.

“The lesson that we are learning from the mistakes in Green Line should make the government take the right decision with the Orange Line. Do not let the people be taken advantage of again.”

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