Transforming Thailand’s Transportation

Transforming Thailand’s Transportation

Across the Kingdom & Within the Region With the current Thailand government committed to calling the general election sometime in 2017,  big-ticket infrastructure development is expected to speed up. But major changes in local transport,  including mini buses and the cross-gulf ferry are also big news.

According to the Transport Ministry’s action plan approved by the cabinet in December 2016, 36 infrastructure projects worth 896 billion THB are scheduled for investment in 2017. The Provinces of Prachuap Khiri Khan and Phetchaburi are under consideration for these developments in road, rail and across-gulf ferry services and infrastructure. Of the total investment, rail system development will account for 73.3%, expressways and motorways will take up 18.7%, with the remainder going toward marine transport and the expansion of Suvarnabhumi airport.

The State Railway’s first new locomotives arrived in January. Many 2016 projects were subject to delays thanks to lengthy negotiations, including the high-speed rail network linking Bangkok and Hua Hin. There’s bidding, proposals and construction underway across the country with various provinces and cities doing their best to be at the forefront of these developments. Authorities anticipate 34 million foreigntourist arrivals and 150 million domestic air travelers in 2017. Major airports including Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang International, U-tapao Rayong-Pattaya International, Krabi International, Phuket International and Chiang Rai Mae Fah Luang International are all in line for renovation or expansion.

At Bangkok’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha visited sites of its second-phase expansion in September and was reassured that annual passenger capacity would be increased from the current 45 million to 60 million by 2019.
Hua Hin Airport; is international status possible? The Hua Hin Airport is also considered by many to be in need of an upgrade, including to international status. The Thai Hotels Association has urged the development of Hua Hin Airport to link with neighboring countries, especially Singapore and Malaysia, as well as other provinces in Thailand.

The Cross Gulf Ferry A Stormy Launch ‘Royal One’ has set sail The Hua Hin to Pattaya ferry service continues to be a hot topic of conversation with many conflicting reports received over recent months, including the operating hours, booking arrangements, costs and landing points. The navy frigate HTMS Kraburi escorted the ferry’s first trip on 5th January after rough seas delayed the unofficial launch from January 1st. Two hundred passengers, who included Thai and foreign tourists, boarded ‘Royal One’ at the Bali Hai pier in Pattaya to Hua Hin. The trip took two and a half hours.

The service was free until January 31st, extended from 15th of the month due to untimely stormy weather in the gulf. Some of the trial trips were cancelled and reports were received of the ferry returning to the port of origin when conditions at sea did not allow a trip to be safely completed. Preecha Tantipura, CEO of Royal Passenger Liner, the ferry operator, said the company plans to formally open the service in February when the weather is expected to improve. The company is required to strictly comply with regulations to ensure passenger safety which means suspending services during bad weather.

We visited the Kho Takiab Pier and met with Royal Passenger Liner General Manager Ratiporn Suklung (Khun Yo) and Hua Hin Manager Papon Opasjamkajorn (Khun Mong) at their temporary ‘office’ at a small restaurant near the pier. A permanent office as well passenger shelter with luggage screening equipment was then under construction on the pier. At the time of our visit the website was also a work in progress (no online bookings), the company Facebook page (เรือเฟอร์รี่ข้ามอ่าว ไทย พัทยา-หัวหิน – Thai only) was far from falang friendly and a contact number (038488999) often unanswered. Clearly there was a lot of work to do! Khun Yo was very aware of these shortcomings but this was only the workup to the real thing. We anticipate that by the time this edition of Hua Hin Today is in print things will be very different!

The basic ticket cost is 1,250 THB for a one way trip per seat. The ferry was operating in Hong Kong and is 38 metres long. Royal 1 is capable of carrying 339 passengers (no vehicles) with 286 seats on the first deck and business class seats on the upper deck and two VIP rooms. With a crew of eight, she travels at up to 27 knots to potentially complete the journey in one hour and forty minutes, according to the company.  The end of January trial voyages have been departing Pattaya at 10.30 AM and then returning from Hua Hin at 1.30 PM. The February schedule had not been released at the time of publication and some changes to a daily service may be anticipated. A second ferry is planned to be introduced in March, however providing vehicle transport is not imminent.

A snack & mini bar, free water and luggage storage (including for golf gear) is on offer as well as on board seasickness remedies for the vulnerable. Transport from the pier to the central areas of both Hua Hin and Pattaya will be operating.
Arriving at Kho Takiab About the Kho Takiab Pier Drive along the Kho Takiab Road south until reaching the fork near to the end. Instead of heading left towards the temple, take the more inland fork road further south. Immediately after the Air Space Restaurant, turn left at Soi Ao Hua Don 3, finishing at the beach under the shadow of the headland. It’s a narrow road with parking issues being addressed, although ongoing traffic congestion seems inevitable. With commercial operations commencing this month, we wait to see how the infrastructure, promotion, communication and consumer demand will be managed. Understandably travel tour companies are also adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. Let’s hope for much calmer waters in the future for this much-anticipated link between Pattaya and Hua Hin.

Maxi Changes to Mini Buses?

A member of the National Legislative Assembly has proposed a set of measures to resolve the problem of road accidents caused by passenger vans in light of a fatal accident in Chonburi in which 25 people were killed when a packed van crashed with a pickup truck. Making his proposal, assembly member Somchai Sawaengkarn said the maximum speed of all passenger vans must be set at 80-90 km/hour. Any driver found to have tampered with the speedometer of his van to increase the maximum speed will have his operating license and driver’s license suspended with the owner of the van fined. Each van would be fitted with a device which will automatically record the speed of the van, the time the ignition system is started and a GPS, said the assemblyman.  He also proposed that all the existing concessions granted to passenger van operators to operate inter-provincial services be scrapped. He said all passenger vans can operate within a radius of 100 kilometres and, for longer distance services, the responsibility should be with buses and mini buses.  The last measure, he said, is a complete overhaul of the system of issuance of driving licenses for public transport drivers.

The Transport Ministry To Phase Out Mini-Buses 

All the existing passenger vans operating from Bangkok to upcountry provinces must be phased out in six months and replaced with 20-seat micro buses, says Mr Chidchai Sanansrisakorn, Deputy Director-general of the Land Transport Department. Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krue-Ngam said as many as 40,000 interprovincial passenger vans could be taken off Thailand’s roads by 2019 because they are not appropriate for public transportation. Wisanu said that the Transport Ministry’s proposal to use Article 44 of the interim charter to immediately tackle the problem with passenger vans did not solely stem from the horrific crash in Chonburi. He said the Royal Thai Police had earlier proposed an amendment to the Land Traffic Act for the Cabinet’s approval, while another road safety committee chaired by General Prawit Wongsuwan presented road safety measures to the Cabinet last October. He said Deputy Transport Minister Pichit Akarathit had wanted the Land Transport Department to move forward the timetable to phase out all passenger vans to six months from now instead of between 20192021. The minister’s phase-out plan is divided into two stages with the first stage for some 5,000 passenger vans operating between Bangkok and upcountry provinces to be phased out and replaced with 20-seat micro buses.

Passenger vans operating between provinces, excluding Bangkok, will be the next to be phased out, said Mr Chidchai. However, he pointed out that since micro buses are more expensive and they are not locally assembled, he would raise the issue with the transport minister. Meanwhile the VIP bus from Hua Hin to Suvanabhumi Airport has change the terminal location from Hua Hin Soi 96/1 to a new location called “Roong Reuang Coach Bus Station”, just north of the Hua Hin Airport.

For Hua Hin access, head north and pass through the airport tunnel before completing a U turn and returning towards Hua Hin. The terminal is on the ocean side of Phetchakasim Road next to Koncept Furniture. This may seem a little inconvenient to some however avoiding the need for the bus to transit through the central Hua Hin traffic may reduce travel time. Transportation is available for hotel or city transits. See www.belltravelservice.com or www.airporthuahinbus.com for more information and online booking. Hua Hin and Cha-Am Taxi Issues It seems that many commuters in these two locations have a lot to say about the adequacy of local taxi services.

Recently reports were received that Hua Hin motorbike taxi fares would be more regulated around Hua Hin City but current dissatisfaction with tuk-tuk operators overcharging and even charging per passenger rather than per journey, suggest this this service may also need more regulation. Another issue relates to Hua Hin songthaews being overcrowded and not frequent enough. It would seem that this transport may be unable to cope in peak periods and need to have numbers boosted.

Meanwhile in Cha-Am there are no complaints about the tuk-tuks or songthaews – there aren’t any! There are private cars offering transport from the beach, but many visitors wanting to just move around town or along the beach road only have a motorbike taxi option. Two or even three passengers can be seen on motorcycle taxis without a helmet in sight. Safe multiple passenger taxis are described by the locals and visitors as an essential service, especially for mum, dad and the kids.

Cha-Am is an obvious location for songthaews to circulate along the beach road, to the central market and railway station. Travellers arriving by train or bus are often seen confused, wondering how they can get to the beach or to accommodation. They don’t want to hire a car, just a simple and safe way to move around town.

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