Let me make this clear. I love this Bangkok. I was born here. I live here. My grandfather emigrated to this city in the 1920’s and the city provided earnings for my family and a roof over our heads to live in. After living in the US for over ten years, I returned to Bangkok in 2003 and the city provided me a career in the interior design and restaurant business. I am grateful to all that the city has provided for me and over the years through Solange Paz Mendoza, the non-profit charitable organization I founded and chair since 2009, I have worked on projects to benefit underprivileged children in Thailand. I continue to live in Bangkok and love this city that I call home.
However, as the city continues to grow and prosper I believe we’re losing sight of what needs to be done to make this city as wonderful as it deserves to be. As much as I’m excited to be part of this growth, I’m worried that the problems that weigh this city down are going unsolved and only getting worse. In this blog, I shift my focus from Hospitality Matters to matters closer to home. I believe that this city has so much potential and is currently only operating at a 25% of its capacity due to poor city planning and other problems that have constrained the quality of life of city dwellers! I write this blog not to bash this city that I love so much but in hopes that I can do my bit to voice out the issues at hand and embark on a humble attempt to provide solutions to atleast some of its undeniable issues.
1. Traffic Congestion
Speaking of issues, The first one I’d like to obviously point out is how unbearable Bangkok traffic has become. Due to poor city planing, the density of the city continues to increase with the development of new condominium projects, retail malls and office buildings along the major arteries of the city. This has resulted in an increase in the number of people requiring access to the city center and occupying more space per square meter in the city. During the Yingluck Shinawatra’s previous government rule, the Phea Thai party also introduced a campaign to encourage first time car buyers which resulted in a huge number of new car purchases, further congesting the city streets. Additionally, the rise of the middle class means in Bangkok more people can afford cars which have always been a fond conspicuous consumption pattern of Thai consumers. Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done as there are limitations in terms of expanding the width of it’s streets or adding new roads. However, there are other solutions that can be put into place. We need to work together to turn Bangkok into a commuter city like New York, London or Hong Kong where you can get within 4 blocks of a BTS or MRT train station everywhere in the city. There has been considerable development to provide park and ride services to consumers by extending the mass transit network to the outskirts of the city to reduce the number of daily commuters who travel up to 4 hours per day to get to and from work but more needs to be done in the inner city. The government needs to invest in more underground subway lines within the city so that every major street and district is accessible by mass transit. We need more inner city subway lines going up and down major streets such as Petchburi, Sathorn, Rama III and Rama IV. This alleviates traffic problems, turns Bangkok into a true mass transit commuter city and allows for people to get to work and home in probably half the time they take today. Furthermore it is energy efficient and has a much greener impact on the environment!
2. Expansion of City Skywalks
Apart from better linked mass transit infrastructure, the government has invested in sky walkways which connect the BTS and MRT to major intersections, office, residential buildings and retail malls. These walkways provide an excellent alternative to the congested footpaths of Bangkok which are still littered with hawkers even though the Bangkok Metropolitan Association has made considerable efforts to regulate the street vendors over the last 12 months. And I believe commuters really enjoy the utilization of the skywalk especially in the rainy season when it provides much needed shelter from the monsoon rain. I believe the government should expand on these skywalk and create full connectivity throughout the city including the introduction of bike lanes on the skywalk paths. Commuters should be able to utilize the skywalks to bypass train stations and have full accessibility either by foot or bike. Additionally, the government should provide areas along the skywalk for licensed and curated exhibitions, musicians, and food vendors. This would become a major tourist attraction and create interesting skywalk tours similar to High Line in New York City, an bandoned elevated railway track that serves as an elevated linear park and greenway in the center of Manhattan, attracting millions of tourists every year.
3. The fate of the City Airport Terminal
Next, Remember the lovely Makkasan station that was envisioned as Bangkok’s city terminal where passengers were going to be able to check into outgoing flights and connect to Bangkok’s other public transportation network? What happened to that? It is rarely used, at an extremely inconvenient location that provides no access to other public transport systems whatsoever. The nearest subway stop is about 800 meters away with no direct walkway or other form of safe access rather than crossing a busy road. Now that it’s been built, I believe we can still make it work by creating accessibility to the station via Petchburi road providing a 2 way access to Makkasan by rerouting traffic making it accessible to and from all directions. We could ensure that the station links to all major public transport lines such as the BTS, MRT, BRT, install proper taxi stands and ensure that the terminal is conveniently linked to the motorway. We also can revitalize the station by re introducing check in terminals so that commuters and tourists can conveniently check into their international flights at the terminals. In conjunction with that, the direct rail link between the station and the airport needs to be reintroduced to add to the convenience. The authorities made the fateful mistake of locating the terminal in that area but its done now. The government needs to get all the various departments working together with the State Railway of Thailand to fix the problems and have the terminal serves its purpose to the city! I am confident it can happen!
4. Makkasan, Bangkok’s Central Park?
Moving on but not too far away from the area, There is a huge piece of land at Makkasan right near the so-called City Terminal owned by the state that is just…there. Despite all the elaborate discussions and plans, nothing ever happened to it but there has been a lot of discussion about turning it into a mixed use development for commercial, residential purposed in addition to a public park. Let me make this very clare. This land should not be used for any commercial purposes but be made into Bangkok’s most beautiful public park sort of like the famed Central Park in NYC. We could create an international competition inviting globally acclaimed architects and landscape designers to create a park that would serve as not only as Bangkok’s lung but also a public park for concerts, public events, recreational activities and so much more.
Finally, we really need to get our public taxi system in order. There need to be less taxis on the road with thorough background checks on drivers and proper training for taxi drivers to ensure that our taxis are run by a governed system and are efficient and most importantly – safe. Mafia taxi drivers and their underground shenanigans need to stomped out immediately with proper regulation and standards. Today every hotel has a taxi meter mafia outside its premised and these driver are a nuisance to the public and tourists alike. It is almost impossible to find a taxi driver in the city center who wants to take you on the meter and tourists are being ripped off on a daily basis, impacting the reputation of Thailand as the so called “Land of Smiles.” There need to be strict laws enforcing only metered rides, designated taxi resting areas, designated taxi stands and stricter laws against refusing passengers, wayward parking, cheating and harassing passengers. I am also ok in terms of increasing the taxi meter fares so that the livelihoods of the driver are improved but only if the quality of service is improved as a precedent.
There’s so much more that can be done to improve this city but we need the participation of both the public and government authorities to fix it. Although it may seem like a long way to go before we reach our vision to make Bangkok an accessible and efficient city that’s on the list of the smartest cities in Southeast Asia, all we need to do is take one step forward. That step, I hope from my part…starts here.