However, economic worries and Thailand’s political upheaval have delayed some mass transit projects.
Pichaya Fitts is a communications officer at the World Bank’s Thailand office. She describes how the Skytrain has impacted transport in Bangkok and argues that it sets an example for neighboring Asian countries.
Bangkok’s Skytrain an example of the good infrastructure and services Thailand needs
At 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, the Skytrain in Bangkok, Thailand, was still pretty crowded. I squeezed myself into a small space near the doors, waiting to exit at the next stop. Suddenly, a cheery sound of music wafted through the air before a woman, standing not far from me, shouted a “Hello” into her tiny cellular phone.
“I’m on the train, two stops away from you,” she told the caller. “Will get there in a heartbeat.”
That got me thinking. Getting somewhere in a heartbeat was -– at least until 1999 –- a luxury no Bangkokian could afford (unless they owned a private helicopter). I remembered when this city’s traffic jams topped the list of things that would come to mind when people thought of Bangkok. (The next down in that list would probably be air pollution, but that’s a subject for a later discussion!).
Even now, the average vehicle speed in this city during the morning rush is roughly 18 kilometers (just over 10 miles) an hour. When I was working as a business reporter in the early 1990s, I had to allow between one and two hours for travel each time I had an appointment elsewhere in the city. Sitting idly in a taxi cab was a normal part of my everyday life then.
Things started to change dramatically after the Skytrain – what we call the elevated mass transit system here – was introduced eight years ago. It now takes me just a few minutes to get to my office from my apartment roughly two kilometers away. Before the Skytrain came along, the very same journey could take anywhere between 15-45 minutes. The Skytrain and the underground transit system we call MRT are making daily commutes by hundreds of thousand Bangkok residents much less stressful than in the past. I myself love being able to predict how long it will take me to get from Point A to Point B. It takes a lot of anxiety out of my everyday life.
When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, appropriate infrastructure, including access to power and water, has helped Thailand fuel rapid economic growth during the past three decades. Good infrastructure has made Thailand attractive to foreign investment, helped facilitate international trade, and improved the efficiency of everyday business activities. All of these led to more jobs, and more jobs led to more income for the poor. For some not-so-poor people, good infrastructure also helps them improve productivity or fulfill their lifestyles. In my line of work, staying connected with people around the globe and having easy access to public information are two very important elements. And I get to do this easily in Thailand, where high speed internet is no longer just luxury for a select few, unlike in some of the countries I had lived.
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