Big Projects, Big Corruption?

A few years after the new Bangkok airport opened, the rail link to it opened too. The rail link is fast, efficient, and totally useless. It terminates in one of the most congested parts of Bangkok, and there’s no connection to public transport. You have to haul your luggage across a busy road to get to the nearest skytrain station – not much fun in Bangkok’s heat or in the rain – or take a taxi.

Of course, if your flight is in the early hours of the morning – as most flights to Europe are – you’re out of luck with the train: it only runs from 6 a.m. to midnight.

It was obvious when it opened that passenger numbers were low, so in January the operators decided to increase the fare by 50% to 150 Baht (about £3). That means that if there are two of you it’s actually cheaper to take a taxi which will take you in relative comfort to your home or hotel. Even if there’s only one of you, the relative cost difference is marginal if you’re going to have to take a taxi when you get off the train in central Bangkok.

And now it’s reported that passenger numbers are down to 700 per day.

This white elephant apparently cost over 30 billion Baht to build. For that amount of money you could pay the taxi fare of 700 passengers every day for the next 391 years.

(I’m not being completely fair here. The same new line is also used for a commuter service which is proving popular.)

Given that the airport link was destined to failure, why was it built in the first place? What springs to mind? Vast opportunities for graft and corruption? I couldn’t possibly comment.

***

There’s a project in the pipeline to build a 50 km elevated walkway in Bangkok. This to me seems to be another crazy project at so many levels.

  1. Thai people in general don’t like walking anywhere. The planned routes of the walkway means it would be useful to tourists, though.
  2. It would be cheaper and easier to rehabilitate the pavements. Get rid of the food vendors and small stalls that block the pavements making it easier to walk in the road. (Of course, that will never happen since the police collect “rent” from these vendors to supplement their pay packets.) Repair the cracked, uneven paving stones. Get rid of the many, many ‘phone booths – redundant since the advent of the mobile ‘phone – that impede progress. Teach drivers the meaning of the black and white stripes painted on the road so that crossing doesn’t mean a mad dash avoiding the speeding cars. Ban motorcycles from riding on the pavement. Nothing difficult, really.
  3. As soon as the walkway opens it will become virtually impassable, crowded with vendors. More tea money for the police, but an inconvenience for the rest of us.

The cost of the walkway is estimated at 15 billion Baht. That’s about 300 million Baht per kilometre. Another, similar project, elsewhere in Bangkok, involves building a 17 km walkway for 59 million Baht per kilometre. That makes 300 million Baht per kilometre seems rather steep. Of course, it’s possible that the nuts and bolts will be of the finest gold and the handrails made of platinum, but I think it perhaps unlikely.  What springs to mind? Vast opportunities for graft and corruption? I couldn’t possibly comment.

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