What can you do with 8 days in a year? Go on a vacation, spend time with your family, and complete all seasons of a TV series? As a person from Bangkok, that is the amount of time one would spend being stuck in traffic in a year on average. Time loss is just one of the aspects of troubles created by traffic congestion. The problem extends to health implications and environmental issues due to the emissions cars produce.
The notorious traffic congestion in Thailand is one of the top ranked in the world. In 2019, right before the pandemic, congestion ranked 11th globally and 4th in Asia according to TomTom’s traffic ranking. Traffic dropped dramatically during the years of the COVID-19 pandemic due to lockdowns. However, the post-pandemic road trends are similar to the pre-pandemic ones, and residents are complaining that the traffic is coming back to its normal pre-pandemic state (Tanakasempipat, 2022).
Bangkok, a city with a population of 10 million, is one of the cities in the world that has grown too quickly, leaving the urban structure unorganized. Like many megacities around the world, Bangkok is facing heavy traffic congestion throughout the day, especially during peak hours. Being the capital of Thailand as well as the infrastructural, political, and economic center, it has therefore drawn many people. While the population had moved towards Bangkok, the city had not formed an appropriate mass transit infrastructure fast enough. The country’s rapid growth in the economy has resulted in rapid growth in the number of car buyers and undeniably the number of vehicles, which continues climb. The internal public transport infrastructure has not kept up with the growing population which has then made the population car-dependent and led to the dramatic road congestion which we see today (Ito et al., 2013).
Policy solution: Prepare the field, then play the game
The traffic congestion problem is a complex and multidimensional one and therefore does not have a single definitive solution. Congestion charging, which is having to pay fares to enter a high traffic zone, has shown to have a ground-breaking response in London and delivered dramatic solutions and which has continued results. However, high quality and viable alternatives in addition to a change in the pattern of private car commuters are key to its success. For recommendation of policy, this can be implemented in short and long-term shifts.
The recommendations are created with attention to cost-effectiveness both in aspects of the government budget and citizen’s affordability, temporal aspect, and structural aspect. The recommendation proposals, which should be done in parallel, would be having short-term and long-term plans. The plan is as follows:
Short run: Change passenger behavior
Morichi (2005) interestingly mentions that it is much more difficult to change private vehicle users’ behavior when public transport is developed late in the city, thus emphasis is to be put on creating behavioral shifts. This would make it as easy as possible for Bangkok citizens to access information regarding public transport options, which can be done through the development of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). The MaaS concept has the goal to shift modes of transportation, from the use of personal vehicles, to shared modes of transport through ICT platform for maximum user convenience. MaaS would provide a combination of results in the use of private sector ride sharing tools, and public transport options. This would create an ecosystem that integrates private operators with public operators with a MaaS Provider, who would manage the demand and supply by offering available mobility services to users, and assigning trips to operators (Aapaoja et al., 2017). While MaaS is being developed, taking care of the affordability of public transport is crucial. Small subsidies should be provided, in view of the fact that economic incentives have been portrayed to be successful around the world. This can be done by adding trial periods for public transport, as well as providing long-term subsidies. Importantly, to not overwhelm the public transport system with the new passengers moving to public transport from economic incentives, clear criteria should be provided on who should be getting the public transport subsidy.
Additionally, with the momentum of post-pandemic times, it is important to endorse companies to allow remote working and flexible working hours to lessen the number of cars on the road entering the inner Bangkok city which tends to have higher congestion during rush hours.
Long run: Preparing the public transport system and adopting of congestion charging
In the long run, the government must build capacity to be ready to accept a flow of new passengers. This should be done through continuing to extend the mass transit system, and add capacity and personnel where needed to handle the flow of incoming new public transport passengers.
Once the mass transit system has improved to handle a much higher number of passengers, Bangkok should introduce congestion charging in Bangkok city to combat high congestion problems. When the shift is more convenient in terms of availability and capacity of public transport, in addition to short-run actions to shift behavior, the shift will then be easier for private vehicle users to use the public transport system long-term.
The problem of congestion is a difficult one and results in extensive decrease in quality of life and health for individuals, as well as negative environmental effects. It is an expensive issue, but an issue worth investing in. Megacities like London have shown success in the adoption of congestion charging. The key to its success was the alternatives that were provided which one could use to go to work in central London. These include more buses and better tubes. Consequently, when considering congestion charging in Bangkok, the question of whether chicken or egg comes first, hereby whether quality public transport or congestion charge should be the initial goal. From the revision of the literature, the results show that it is important to adopt congestion charge into the context of Bangkok’s infrastructure development reality, whereas the public transport system is yet to be completely developed, improved, and extended.
For that reason, short-term actions are to be implemented to foster a shift in car drivers' behavior toward using public transport. This is through incorporating economic incentives and creating more convenience. In parallel, large scale development plans should also take place to handle the rising number of mass transit passengers by the continuation of public transport development and addition of yearly fiscal investments. Once the public transport system is ready to absorb a bigger flow, congestion charges should be introduced as a grand plan to clear congested roads.
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About the Author
Neha Singh, a Masters in Public Policy candidate at the Willy Brandt School, possesses a diverse background in knowledge and community management, spanning areas such as environment, digitalization, marketing, and partnership development. Her expertise has been honed through roles in education technology startups, community building initiatives, international cooperation with GIZ Thailand, and various positions within both local and national committees of AIESEC Thailand. She is dedicated to making a difference on environmental topics, conflicts and human rights.
~ The views represented in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Brandt School. ~