Transport in Bangkok
The city of Bangkok is served by multiple transport systems. Although Bangkok's canals historically served as a major mode of transport, they have long since been surpassed in importance by land traffic. Charoen Krung Road, the first to be built by Western techniques, was completed in 1864. Since then, the road network has vastly expanded to accommodate the sprawling city. A complex elevated expressway network helps bring traffic into and out of the city centre, but Bangkok's rapid growth has put a large strain on infrastructure, and traffic jams have plagued the city since the 1990s. Although rail transport was introduced in 1893 and electric trams served the city from 1894 to 1968, it was only in 1999 that Bangkok's first rapid transit system began operation. Older public transport systems include an extensive bus network and boat services which still operate on the Chao Phraya and two canals. Taxis appear in the form of cars, motorcycles, and tuk-tuk.
Bangkok is connected to the rest of the country through the national highway and rail networks, as well as by domestic flights to and from the city's two international airports. Its centuries-old maritime transport of goods is still conducted through Khlong Toei Port.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is largely responsible for overseeing the construction and maintenance of the road network and transport systems through its Public Works Department and Traffic and Transportation Department. However, many separate government agencies are also in charge of the individual systems, and much of transport-related policy planning and funding is contributed to by the national government.
Road-based transport is the primary mode of travel in Bangkok. Due to the city's organic development, its streets do not follow an organized grid structure. Forty-eight major roads link the different areas of the city, branching into smaller streets and lanes (soi) which serve local neighbourhoods. Eleven bridges over the Chao Phraya link the two sides of the city, while the Ratchadaphisek inner ring road encircles the inner city. Several roads linking Bangkok with neighbouring and further provinces are designated as national highways, including the primary routes Phahonyothin (route 1), Sukhumvit (route 3), and Phetkasem (route 4). The outer ring road, Kanchanaphisek (motorway route 9), runs through Bangkok's suburbs, linking with Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan, while the Bangkok–Chonburi Motorway (route 7) runs to the eastern seaboard province, passing Suvarnabhumi Airport on the way.
Bangkok's rapid growth in the 1980s resulted in sharp increases in vehicle ownership and traffic demand, which have since continued—in 2006 there were 3,943,211 in-use vehicles in Bangkok, of which 37.6 percent were private cars and 32.9 percent were motorcycles. These increases, in the face of limited carrying capacity, were expressed as severe traffic congestion evident by the early 1990s. The extent of the problem is such that the Thai Traffic Police has a unit of officers trained in basic midwifery in order to assist deliveries which do not reach hospital in time. While Bangkok's limited road surface area (eight percent, compared to 20–30 percent in most Western cities) is often cited as a major cause of its traffic jams, other factors, including high vehicle ownership rate relative to income level, inadequate public transport systems, and lack of transportation demand management, also play a role. In 2015, about nine million vehicles were registered in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, but the existing road system can accommodate only 1.5 million vehicles. The result is traffic jams that waste about 97 million baht worth of fuel each day on average, or about 35 billion baht a year. Efforts to alleviate the problem have included the construction of intersection bypasses and an extensive system of elevated highways (including the expressway system and Don Mueang Tollway), as well as the creation of several new rapid transit systems. These actions, however, have not been successful in improving the city's overall traffic conditions.
Traffic has been the main source of air pollution in Bangkok, which reached serious levels in the 1990s. However, efforts to improve air quality by improving fuel quality and enforcing emission standards, among others, have been largely successful. Atmospheric particulate matter levels dropped from 81 micrograms per cubic metre in 1997 to 43 in 2007.
Although the BMA has created thirty signed bicycle routes along several roads totalling 230 kilometres (140 mi), cycling is still largely impractical, especially in the city centre. Most of these bicycle lanes share the pavement with pedestrians. Poor surface maintenance, encroachment by hawkers and street vendors, and a hostile environment for cyclists and pedestrians, make cycling and walking unpopular methods of getting around in Bangkok.
Bangkok has an extensive bus network providing local transit services within the Greater Bangkok area. The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) operates a monopoly on bus services, with substantial concessions granted to private operators. 3,506 BMTA buses, together with private joint buses, minibuses, songthaews and vans totalling 16,321 in number, operate on 470 routes throughout the region. Although a large number of commuters still ride buses daily, passenger numbers have been almost consistently in decline in the past two decades. The BMTA reported an average of 1,048,442 trips per day in 2010, a quarter of the 4,073,883 reported in 1992.
A separate bus rapid transit system owned by the BMA has been in operation since 2010. Known simply as the BRT, the system currently consists of a single line running from the business district at Sathon to Ratchaphruek on the west side of the city. Although further lines had been planned, development on all route expansions are currently halted.
Long-distance bus services to all provinces operate out of Bangkok. The Transport Co., Ltd. is the BMTA's long-distance counterpart. North- and northeast-bound buses leave from the Chatuchak (Mo Chit 2) Bus Terminal, while eastbound and southbound buses leave from Ekkamai and South Bangkok terminals, respectively.
Taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok, and are a popular form of transport. As of August 2012[update], there are 106,050 cars, 58,276 motorcycles and 8,996 tuk-tuk motorized tricycles cumulatively registered for use as taxis. Meters have been required for car taxis since 1992, while tuk-tuks' fares are usually bargained. Motorcycle taxis operate from regulated ranks, with either fixed or negotiable fares, and are usually employed for relatively short journeys.
Car taxis are either privately owned, or belong to a company or cooperative. Such ownership is reflected in their bright and distinctive paints: private taxis are green/yellow, while different companies have varying colour schemes. Despite their popularity, taxis have gained a bad reputation for often refusing passengers when the requested route is not to the driver's convenience. In June 2012, the Department of Land Transport announced a campaign to overhaul taxi driver registrations, as it revealed that there had been only 66,645 legally registered cabdrivers. A campaign of stricter punishments for refusing passengers was announced in September, along with the launch of new complaint-lodging systems.
Motorcycle taxis were previously unregulated, and subject to extortion by organized crime gangs. Since 2003, registration has been required for motorcycle taxi ranks, and drivers now wear distinctive numbered vests designating their district of registration and where they are allowed to accept passengers.
Bangkok is the location of Hua Lamphong Railway Station, the main terminus of the national rail network operated by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT). In addition to long-distance services, the SRT also operates a few daily commuter trains running from and to the outskirts of the city during the rush hour.
Bangkok is currently served by three rapid transit systems: the elevated BTS Skytrain, the underground MRT and the Airport Rail Link. Although proposals for the development of rapid transit in Bangkok had been made since 1975, it was only in 1999 that the BTS finally began operation.
The BTS consists of two lines, Sukhumvit and Silom, with thirty stations along 30.95 kilometres (19.23 mi). The MRT opened for use in July 2004 and currently consists of two lines, the Blue Line and Purple Line, with a total of 35 stations along 42 kilometres (26 mi). The Airport Rail Link, opened in August 2010, is operated by the SRT and connects the city centre to Suvarnabhumi Airport to the east. Its eight stations span a distance of 28 kilometres (17 mi).
Although initial passenger numbers were low and their service area remains limited to the inner city, these systems have become indispensable to many commuters. The BTS reported an average of 392,167 daily trips in 2010, while the MRT had 178,334 passenger trips per day. However, relatively high fare prices have kept these systems inaccessible to a portion of the population.
The BTS and MRT have had several route extensions since their openings. As of 2016[update], several additional transit lines and extensions are also under construction. The entire Mass Rapid Transit Master Plan in Bangkok Metropolitan Region consists of eight main lines and four feeder lines totalling 508 kilometres (316 mi) to be completed by 2029, a mixture of rapid transit, heavy rail and monorail systems.
Although much diminished from their past prominence, water-based transport still plays an important role in Bangkok and the immediate upstream and downstream provinces. Several water buses serve commuters daily. The Chao Phraya Express Boat carries passengers along the river, regularly serving thirty-four stops from Rat Burana to Nonthaburi and carrying an average of 35,586 passengers per day in 2010. The smaller Khlong Saen Saep boat service serves twenty-seven stops from Wat Si Bun Rueang to Phan Fa Lilat on Saen Saep Canal, and another service serves thirteen stops on Khlong Phra Khanong. They served a daily average of 57,557 and 721 passengers, respectively. Long-tail boats operate on fifteen regular routes on the Chao Phraya, with an average of 2,889 passengers per day. Passenger ferries at thirty-two river crossings served an average of 136,927 daily passengers in 2010.
Bangkok Port, popularly known by its location as Khlong Toei Port, was Thailand's main international port from its opening in 1947 until it was superseded by the deep-sea Laem Chabang Port in 1991. It is primarily a cargo port, though its inland location limits access to ships of 12,000 deadweight tonnes or less. The port handled 11,936,855 tonnes (13,158,130 tons) of cargo in the first eight months of the 2010 fiscal year, about 22 percent the total of the country's international ports.
Bangkok is one of Asia's busiest air transport hubs. Two commercial airports serve the city, the older Don Mueang International Airport and the new Bangkok International Airport, commonly known as Suvarnabhumi. Suvarnabhumi, which replaced Don Mueang as Bangkok's main airport at its opening in 2006, served 47,910,744 passengers in 2011, making it the world's sixteenth-busiest airport by passenger volume and the fifth-busiest in the Asia Pacific region. However, this amount of traffic is already over its designed capacity of 45 million passengers. Don Mueang has since been reopened for domestic flights in 2007, and resumed international services focusing on low-cost carriers in October 2012. Suvarnabhumi is undergoing expansion in order to increase its capacity to 60 million, which is expected to be completed by 2016.
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