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Opinion: Improving Phuket’s transport system

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PHUKET: Sommai Sudkhao, originally from Phatthalung province, is the Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO) chief. He was the director of the Bangkok Area Transportation Office before moving to Phuket three months ago. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Ramkhamhaeng University.

Here, he talks about managing Phuket’s transportation systems, the challenges posed by the province’s dependence on tourism, and his plans for the island while in office.

Phuket is the tourism province of Thailand. Therefore, the most challenging job for the transport office is how to control public transport. Our main job is to balance the interests of passengers and public transport operators. We have to make the service smooth and satisfactory for both sides.

Transportation is the core and most basic need for tourism. Therefore, the more we can improve our transportation networks, the better tourism will become. We have several plans in the works that are aimed at improving the transportation system in Phuket.

Firstly, we are working hard to control the price of public transport here. We are not going to lower the prices, as several officials and drivers agreed to the current prices years ago. However, we will keep monitoring all public transport operators so that they stop violating the standard prices.

Secondly, to ensure that the standard prices are known by passengers, particularly tourists, we’re going to mandate that public vehicle operators display the prices inside their vehicles and at every boarding point. A budget has already been approved for this project. We are working on printing out the price lists, and expect to be done in the next few months.

We will also be increasing the number of parking spots for public vehicles. We are now working on establishing more than 70 parking spots throughout the island for public transport. This will give tourists more choices when it comes to which buses to take, and make it easier for them to locate public alternatives. Tourists will not have to walk very far to find taxi stops anymore. This will also help public transport to be better organized.

Currently, there are more than 4,000 green-plate taxis on the island. My plan is to keep this number from increasing. The original idea of green-plate taxis was that these taxis are hired by any specific business such as hotels, restaurants and the airport. However, the problem in Phuket is that these taxis have become private businesses.

That is where the problems begin. When they become private operators, they go out of control. This is where the taxi mafia came from, because these private operators would have to compete with each other for positions in a taxi queue; they can lower or increase their price whenever they want. Therefore, we are going to keep a closer eye on green-plate taxis and are not allowing any more to register.

Beside the control of green-plate taxis, we plan to increase the number of metered taxis in Phuket. Metered taxis are the fairest for passengers in terms of price, as you pay according to the distance you travel. By having more metered taxis, we can reduce the problem of the non-metered ones cheating passengers.

We are also going to start a public vehicle operator education project. The project will educate drivers about the rules, regulations, safety measures, and how to react and take action properly in emergency situation. The public drivers have to be responsible for many lives, so they have to be well trained. Our target is to educate at least 200 drivers this year.

Beside the plans mentioned, I believe the upcoming light rail project will be a much better solution for Phuket. As you know, public transportation such as the buses here don’t really work well. The problem is that no one really wants to invest in them because they don’t earn as much as the taxis can.

Therefore, I believe the light rail project will be a boon to Phuket. It will help to greatly reduce the traffic congestion and people will use it, especially tourists, so the number of private cars should go down. I am hoping to see big improvements in Phuket once the light rail becomes a reality.

— Kongleaphy Keam

 

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