Phuket may ditch light rail and build smart bus system instead

PHOTO: A Smart bus plan may replace Phuket light rail plans. (via MRTA)

A proposal to drop the light rail planned for Phuket and replace it with a smart bus system is under an in-depth review as ordered by Phuket Transport Minister. Advocates for the smart bus – automated driverless buses on city streets – say that the project would bring mass transportation to Phuket Island for 15.2 billion baht cheaper than a light rail would.

The analysis was ordered Thursday in a phone meeting to check progress on regional transport projects. The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand has suggested changing the plan in Phuket from light rail to a smart bus system. The MRTA had been dead set on the light rail system but have now launched preliminary research on a driverless bus system.

HERE’S a previous story with more details about how the bus system would work, instead of a light rail.

But critics say the planned light rail system was almost unworkable with its routing not going through the main population centres and its complete avoidance of the tourist areas, was doomed from the start. The 5 years it was expected for construction would have caused major traffic snarls on the main island arteries and then reduced traffic flow on those arteries for the life of the light rail project.

Initial investigations show that an automated rapid transit bus system would shave about 9 months off the construction time and 15.289 billion baht from the budget. Cost-saving measures like precast concrete and launching gantries will further reduce construction expenses.

As a result, the bus system could be run with lower passenger fares than a light rail train would. The project was considering 3 bus fares… local in Phuket Town, local outside of Phuket Town, and transport between towns around the island.

The MRTA and the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning have coordinated with the Expressway Authority in Thailand to consider the smart bus plan and its effect on traffic. Unfortunately, the group is worried that building the smart bus system plan to be ready by 2026 while working on the Patong tunnel project scheduled to open in 2028 would create long-term detrimental traffic jams. They’re considering a postponement to a 2030 launch (the Patong tunnel project has been in ‘planning’ mode for 20 years and will never happen).

The Transportation Minister has requested proposals for 2 different timelines to be delivered within the next 2 weeks, and plans to have the MRTA and EXAT come to Phuket for public hearings after Covid-19.

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.


  1. Sounds all great with a smart bus system. But I guess those system has only been tested in countries with civilized traffic situations… Pretty shure they won’t work so well in Thai traffic. Wonder if the system can cope with “ghost riders” (scooters that drive against the traffic because that route is the shortest)

  2. Tell me if I’m wrong. I just see that the actual problem is to Feeding the people of Phuket. What is this again and again this absolutely crazy idea of “SMART BUS”. Every day it’s really the “MUPPET SHOW”.

  3. No any sort of system will be available in 15 years. The island needs nothing. Light rail will cause Environment Watch smear, Bus will cause Safety Watch snear, elephant, Animal Rights condemn. Just talking is the fastest transportation system.

  4. Forget this latest “plan”
    Phuket will not need any mass transport system for years to come. There will not be enough persons on the islands to make a mass transport system economical.
    They cannot afford a mass transport system any way. The people are lining up in the street for free food!

  5. Ditching the idea of the ‘doomed from the start’ light rail system is laudable, regardless of the pockets that have been lined by the several feasibility studies over the years. However, judging by the ‘success’ of the swanky LED informatory signs at the Chalong underpass, I think expecting anything too ‘smart’ in Phuket is pushing things a bit far. Why not just have modern, comfortable busses with real drivers able to earn salaries? How we’d prevent the brakes from failing on wet hills is another matter, of course. Best to set up an inquiry on that one !

  6. @Henry Ford – Likely correct. The Phuket Mafia is deeply entrenched. If government has any balls they’ll consider a bus system like George Town Penang. Super cheap and fast from airport, no threats, rip offs or argument. Once in town the city shoppers bus is free on and off unlimited. And….taxis in Malaysia are cheap and efficient meter cars….no rip off confrontations.

  7. I lived in malaysia for quite a few years.the taxi drivers especially in kl have a horrendous reputation for poor service and not using meters among locals and expats.
    They have improved a bit over the last few years but that is only because of the competition from grab.most malaysian airports and kl central taxi stand have coupon systems to stop the rip offs and also ensure the authorities know what taxi driver picked up the tourists.there have been cases of robbery and rape of tourists in the past.

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