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Thailand’s Government Unveils Shockingly Affordable Train Fare: A Christmas Miracle or a Plausible Nightmare?

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Wherever you are in the world, the question of how much it costs to get around every day on the city’s mass transit system can be a contentious issue. Take, for instance, the recent May 14 general election in Thailand, where nothing stirred up more controversy than the affordability of public transportation. The Thai Transport Minister, Suriya Jungrungreangkit, found himself on the hot seat when he declared that the 20-baht flat train fare was not a governmental priority at the moment, thus sparking a nationwide outcry.

In an effort to put the matter at rest, Mr. Suriya used a two-day government policy debate to announce that they would experiment with the 20-baht fare on the MRT Purple Line and SRT Red Line in the next three months as a Christmas present to the nation. But the proposal has its challenges, notably the need to navigate complex legal issues surrounding private sector investments in electric train routes, which is expected to take up two years.

According to Saree Aungsomwang, the secretary-general of Thailand Consumers Council (TCC), the wait isn’t necessary. They could confidently roll out the 20-baht flat train rate on the government-invested systems, which include the MRT Blue Line, MRT Purple Line, SRT Red Line, and SRT Yellow Line. Ms. Saree also proposes the elimination of entry fees to make it financially easier for commuters who need to switch lines.

As a consumer rights advocate, the TCC has always pushed for affordable, cost-effective commuting costs in both Bangkok and regional parts of Thailand. The group insists that commuting expenses should not exceed 10% of the daily minimum wage, considering the hardship it poses on individuals with low incomes. This passionately championed cause arises from comparisons with other global cities like London, where the metro fare clocks in at 5% of the minimum wage, Tokyo at 9%, and Germany, where commuters typically spend only about 330 baht per month.

The dream of a 20-baht train fare is by no means an easy feat to achieve. Its roll-out on other electric train routes could take longer because of more complex negotiations with private-sector investors. Moreover, the policy’s implementation could require an annual subsidy of 5.44 billion baht. The government, Ms. Saree suggests, could draw this subsidy from alternative income sources rather than using public funds.

Ms. Saree firmly believes that the benefits outstrip the costs because it could alleviate traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, and enhance citizens’ quality of life. A transport service development fund would also empower local authorities to Create their own mass transit systems and integrate them with larger station networks. She comments, “The mass transit system should not be an alternative but the primary system.”

This issue of the 20-baht flat rate is not insurmountable, according to former deputy Bangkok governor Samart Ratchapolsitte. The government would only need to earmark compensations for the loss in fare revenue of system operators such as the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC), Bangkok Expressway and Metro (BEM) and SRT Electrified Train Co.

Agachai Sumalee, a professor of transport systems at the School of Integrated Innovation, Chulalongkorn University, believes the answer lies in a gradual overhaul of the fare system. He suggests the 20-baht fare for anyone traveling no more than ten stations would be an excellent place to start.

Overall, the journey towards adopting a 20-baht flat fare for Thailand’s mass transit systems won’t be a straightforward one. However, with careful planning, negotiation, and broad involvement, it is a goal that the government can achieve. Its realization would undoubtedly be momentous for the Israeli citizens and would bolster the government’s credibility in successfully delivering on its promises.

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