Banana (Traffic) Jam

Bangkok is notorious for its terrible traffic congestion; the shortest of journeys can take a time that seems interminable. Being stuck in traffic not moving for an hour or more is hardly an infrequent occurrence. The causes of this vehicular constipation are manifold.

One cause is the mix of vehicles on the road. Cars fight to progress with food carts, either hand-pushed or powered by motorcycle; motorcycles make their way to the front of the queue at every traffic light, then pull away slowly – as fast as their underpowered engines can manage; buses aggressively (and seemingly pointlessly) change lane, blocking the progress of cars behind them; slow moving, smoke-belching trucks hog the “fast” lane – or indeed, any other lane, as the whim takes them.

Then there are the consequences of Thai scofflawishness. Motorcycles, and on occasion, cars, drive on the wrong side of the road, forcing cars to pull out from the left hand lane. Cars double- and even triple-parked are omnipresent. Parking where legally forbidden happens, with particularly notable consequences (but not for the transgressor) at road junction and at bus stops where the bus will be forced to stop in the middle lane to pick up and drop off passengers.

Then there’s infrastructure. One of the peculiarities of the road in Thailand is the prevalence of U-turns. The universality of a central reservation means that to turn right at what in other countries would be a crossroads one has to turn left, then do a U-turn at the next break in the central reservation, which may be a couple of kilometres away. When traffic is flowing well, once faces pulling out into the fast lane or the opposite carriageway; and when it’s not, one is stuck waiting for a kindhearted motorist to let one in, whilst the traffic backs up behind one.

Bangkok StonehengeAnother infrastructure issue is the lack of investment thereinto. At least, the money is stumped up, but so much of it “evaporates” that major transport projects seem rarely to be completed, and Bangkok is strewn with the remnants of failed expressways. Some people refer to them as “Bangkok’s Stonehenge”.

The situation hasn’t been helped by the current government’s shameless electoral bribe policy to alleviate poverty by offering up to 100,000 Baht ($3,250) off the cost of a new car for first time buyers which has put a thousand more cars on the road every day for the last six months.

Now the experts in Bangkok have identified another significant factor in Bangkok’s crazy traffic: bananas. To be honest, I’m not surprised. Those evil yellow fruit not only were (as some believe) the fruit that Adam and Eve munched on causing mankind’s downfall, but also have an obscenely phallic shape unfit for polite society.

Actually, to be more specific, The Powers That Be in one district of Bangkok have decided to outlaw buying fried bananas from roadside vendors in a bid to ease traffic gridlock. After all, every car driver knows that the sight and smell of a frying banana is enough to render one’s right foot totally incapable of pressing on the accelerator. Frankly, I’m surprised that it’s taken the city experts so long to fathom this out.

With back-to-front logic the “experts” have determined that people’s stopping their cars to buy fried bananas is causing traffic standstill, not realising that if the traffic were flowing freely, people wouldn’t stop to buy bananas. In ye olden days the street vendors walked between the stationary cars proffering their wares, but that was banned on safety grounds, so they took to selling from roadside stalls; the traffic jams were there long before the roadside vendors.

Anyway, now the good citizens of Bangkok face the prospect of a 500 Baht fine if they buy a fried banana whilst stuck in traffic.

The whole affair to me is simply… bananas.

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