12 June 2024

Greater Bangkok’s MRT underground and BTS Skytrain transport systems are so convenient that millions of residents and visitors rely on them despite the high fares.

Hence, the Thai Consumers Council (TCC) believes it’s time that authorities introduced a common ticketing system that makes city train services both convenient and affordable.

“A common ticketing system would help restructure fares in a fairer manner,” TCC secretary-general Saree Aongsomwang said.

A Bangkok Poll survey conducted earlier this month found that 61% of commuters want cheaper MRT and BTS fares, while up to 48.5% desire a common ticketing system. Asked to name problems with the city’s train systems, 61% mentioned “expensive fares” and 25.7% complained of having to use different tickets to get around Bangkok.

The MRT covers 12 routes across Bangkok and adjacent provinces and links with the BTS Skytrain. However, commuters need to use a new ticket every time they switch from one system to the other.

Over the next six years, the number of metropolitan train routes is set to almost triple to 33. But without a common ticketing system, commuters will likely face higher fares and the added hassle of buying different tickets to get around.

Journey toward common ticket

The idea of a common ticketing system in Bangkok has been raised several times in the past 20 years. However, little or no effective action was taken until 2012, when the Transport Ministry finally commissioned the Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning Office (OTP) to study options for creating a common system. By 2015, a system had been designed and a bill drafted.

From 2015 to 2017, another study was conducted, this time for a Central Clearing House. Then in 2019, a committee scrutinizing the Common Ticketing System Bill resolved it could be passed into law as a regulation by the Office of the Prime Minister. The Cabinet approved the resolution in 2020.

The OTP held forums in June to gather opinions on the draft legislation. Featuring 58 articles, the draft covers a Common Ticket Policy Board, management of a common ticketing system, its operation, fares, a Common Ticket Fund, the suspension and revocation of licenses, punishments, and transitory provisions.

Consumers’ view

However consumer-rights chief Saree complained that this legislation is far from perfect as it fails to address several important issues, including the need to cover transport systems across Thailand.

“Check the details and you find that it only mentions Greater Bangkok. Also, it does not cover buses or boats,” she said.

Neither does the draft address the concept of public transport services, or the need to ensure that low-income earners have equal access to quality public transport, she added.

TCC reckons that people’s daily commute should cost no more than 10% of the minimum daily wage, which currently stands at 353 baht in Bangkok.

A recent survey shows that BTS/MRT users pay far higher on average, with almost half (46.2%) spending between 51 and 100 baht daily. Another 14.2% pay between 101 and 150 baht. Those who spend less than 50 baht account for just 35.4% of commuters.

Of the 1,200 respondents in the survey, 36.2% said they use MRT and Skytrain services daily while 33.8% said they have to change lines to get to their destination.

“The authorities should ensure that the daily commute costs no more than 50 baht a day,” Saree said. “Many other countries have set the maximum public transport fare based on the daily minimum wage rate.”

She also insisted that no public transport system should be exempted from the upcoming common ticketing system. According to the draft bill, certain services – including the BTS Green (Sukhumvit) Line – will likely be excluded as joining the common ticketing system will be voluntary.

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It’s complicated

OTP director-general Punya Chupanit said the common ticketing system has been delayed due to complications involved in implementation. His office had to hire a consulting firm to study the project for ticket integration and make necessary preparations.

“We have to draft legislation, think about organic legislation that will follow, consider the Common Ticket Policy Board, the Common Ticket Fund, and even a clearing house,” he explained.

Punya declined to say when a common ticketing system will be implemented.

He said draft regulation would first have to be submitted to the committee in charge – which will be chaired by the incoming transport minister – before it can be submitted to the new Cabinet.

“If the Cabinet gives the green light, the legislation can proceed to Parliament. But how long Parliament will take to deliberate the legislation cannot be predicted,” he said.

So far, the OTP has already discussed the system with operators of city rail lines and most appear willing to join the common ticketing system if it is backed by clear and practical regulations.

More needs to be done

The TCC has written to the Land Transport Department asking for clarification of the common ticketing system and its goals, which Saree said is missing from the draft regulation.

“If we get clear answers from the OTP, then we can raise relevant issues with all political parties and gain support for what’s good for the public and country,” she said.

Improvement of Thailand’s public transport system would draw more people to use it, significantly reducing carbon emissions from private vehicles, she added.

“Plus, people’s quality of life overall would improve,” she said.

Saree objects particularly to the idea of passengers being required to pay an entry fee, as currently charged by several operators. She believes the government should shoulder this cost, or at the very least, prevent people from being charged several times a day just because they need to use different systems.

Punya said to make this possible, the OTP will likely have to provide a subsidy of 1.3 billion to 1.5 billion baht annually, because the common ticketing system will have an impact on travel operators’ revenue.

By Thai PBS World