A former Bangkok MP said City Hall should make a power play to renegotiate terms with the BTS operator rather than hike fares after Bangkok’s defiant governor refused to budge on doing so, going so far as to dare his critics to file complaints with anti-corruption authorities.
Kla Party founder and former Bangkok MP Atavit Suwannapakdee said today that he disagreed with Gov. Aswin Kwanmuang’s decision to stick to his guns on raising max fares on all lines to THB104, saying that would make the BTS more expensive to ride than comparable lines in Hong Kong and Singapore.
“If the private service provider is so unwilling to negotiate, the government should remember that it still holds the cards on the concession for the MRT Orange Line,” he wrote, referring to a future eastern line not yet formally awarded to the Bangkok Mass Transit System to operate.
The new fare structure, Atavit said, would make it cost more per kilometer than the Hong Kong MTR (about THB7) or Singapore’s MRT, which averages about THB5 per kilometer. The 10-kilometer trip from BTS Siam to BTS Bang Chak, which incurs the maximum fare, will be THB11 baht per kilometer. (He also said it would cost more than the London Underground, though that seems to charge commuters about THB16 per kilometer).
His comments came after Bangkok Gov. Aswin Kwanmuang said yesterday that City Hall would not back down in spite of opposition from lawmakers and the Transport Ministry, which earlier in the day asked for it to hold to the former rate, given current economic conditions.
Aswin, installed in 2016 by the ruling junta, said the new rates will go into effect Feb. 16 as planned.
“[The Transport Ministry] has their reasons, but City Hall has our own reasons as well,” he said, referring to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s deep debts to its concessionaire train operator. “If we put off on collecting fares at the new rate, where can we find the money to pay the service provider?”
His comments came after parliamentary transport committee chairman Sophon Saram announced vote results from the meeting on BTS concession and new fare that all participants vote against city hall to renew concession with the Bangkok Mass Transit Co. when it ends in 2029.
Also, as they still can’t conclude on how to dump the price to max at THB65 just yet, Sophon said all participants voted for the city hall to initially postpone the new rate effective date to help the public during the pandemic. He criticized Aswin that he didn’t keep his promise with other authorities in the past to raise the fare price to THB65 at maximum.
Aswin said the only way they would back down would be under a government order. He said the increase is reasonable when comparing the BTS with the MRT, Bangkok’s other commuter rail system. He said the BTS Green Line, aka the Sukhumvit Line, costs THB1.23 per kilometer while commuters pay THB1.62 to ride the MRT Blue Line.
“We confirmed that BTS fares are lower, and we did everything right by the law,” he said. “If it’s wrong, I dare you to file a complaint with the National Anti-Corruption Commission.”
The commission is empowered to investigate officials for graft, but its decisions over the years have cast doubt on its independence.
Earlier this week, lawmakers on a parliamentary transportation committee went public with their dissatisfaction, saying the fare increase was too high, especially given the ongoing pain felt by the public due to the pandemic.