Slow road through Bangkok

Slow road through Bangkok
Traffic along the Ratchadaphisek Road (above), a major thoroughfare in Bangkok, on a typical afternoon.

Thailand - Taking the bus is an anonymous affair, unless you happen to be the transport minister in a capital notorious for its traffic jams. So it was when Mr Chadchart Sittipunt boarded a public bus recently in Bangkok to get to the airport.

The Thai minister reportedly set aside two hours for the journey. But he had to exit the bus halfway and hop into his chauffeured car in order not to miss his flight.

His experience, which made headlines, did not surprise Bangkok residents. For them, congestion is a daily affair.

Average speeds on city roads have been steadily falling in recent years, and dropped to an agonising 18kmh during morning peak hours last year.

Bangkok is twice the size of Singapore and hosts as many as 12 million people on a working day.

Critics of the ruling Puea Thai party pin the blame on its generous tax rebate for first-car owners, which added more than a million vehicles on the country's roads.

But Puea Thai has also put Mr Chadchart in charge of transport. The former associate professor of engineering from Chulalongkorn University is one of the few technocrats in a Cabinet where posts are allocated according to political affiliations and reshuffled every few months.

Since assuming the post last year, he has pushed for greater use of rail in Thailand, and overseen the development of a seven- year infrastructure plan that includes high-speed rail links. Mr Chadchart has also urged top officials to take the public bus at least once a week to find ways to improve the service.

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