PHUKET: High costs and lack of demand has forced the operators of the Airport Express Bus service to push back the launch of its new route from Patong to Kata-Karon until at least October.
However, bus company chairman Prakob Panyawai is working on adding two more bus stops in Patong, Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO) chief Terayout Prasertphol confirmed to the Phuket Gazette today.
Mr Prakob initially planned for his “hop on, hop off” bus service to run from Phuket International Airport to Kata-Karon, but fear of violent reprisals from local tuk-tuk and taxi drivers necessitated terminating the route in Patong (story here).
He later had revived his plan to roll out a new final stop in Karon by mid-August, after Col Somchai Ponatong of the Army’s 41st Military Circle promised to ensure the safety of the bus drivers and passengers (story here).
“We met with Mr Prakob earlier this week. He tested running the bus from Patong to Kata-Karon to see if it was worth it,” Mr Terayout said. “The answer was no. It costs too much because of the hills.”
Undaunted, Mr Prakob is working on how to make the service viable.
“He is trying to come up with a new plan to launch the service and make sure the company will not suffer by losing money,” Mr Terayout said.
Among the strategies under consideration are using a larger bus from the airport during peak passenger times, but using vans when there are fewer passengers.
“The finalized bus route, stops and travel times are set to be launched by the end of October,” explained Mr Terayout.
“However, the bus operators may need to focus more on improving their marketing, because not as many passengers are using the bus service as expected.”
Since the launch of the decades-in-waiting Airport Express Bus service in March last year (story here), the operators have revised the schedule several times to better target passengers.
The buses currently depart Patong for the airport nine times each day: the first bus leaves at 8am and the last one at 7pm. Meanwhile, the first bus departs the airport for Patong at 8:15am, while the last bus from the airport leaves at 8:45pm (timetable here).
The bus service also offers one of the cheapest – and safest – modes of transport on the island, both critical factors for all tourists and residents alike.
As agreed with the PLTO, the bus fares from Phuket Airport to the Boat Lagoon in Koh Kaew costs 60 baht, the Tesco Lotus shopping mall on the bypass road costs 80 baht, and all the way to Patong costs 120 baht. The same fares apply in the opposite direction (fares here).
In the Gazette poll last month, nearly 20 per cent of the 4,544 respondents voted that they were willing to pay “less than 300 baht” for a taxi fare from the airport to Patong, the cheapest option available in the poll.
The strongest call for the cheapest fares came from Thai nationals, with 34 per cent voting for “less than 300 baht”.
For the full poll results, click here.
— Chutharat Plerin