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16-08-04, 10:03 PM #1
New Bangkok subway could signal death knell for Venice-of-Asia canal boats
Sun Aug 8, 6:21 PM ET
BANGKOK (AFP) - The Thai capitals traditional wooden canal boats, which centuries ago helped earn Bangkok the moniker 'Venice of the East,' face a watery grave as the city's ultra-modern new subway lures away commuters, the boat services owner said.
For years, tens of thousands of Bangkok residents daily braved the pollution, disease and other hazards of the city's murky waterways to shave minutes -- and sometimes hours -- off their commutes by riding the Thai longboats.
But the multi-billion dollar subway, inaugurated by Thailand's king just last month, promises to shift the transport landscape for Bangkok, which already has the unenviable reputation as one of the worlds worst capital cities for traffic gridlock. The canal boats are unlikely to be spared in the reshuffle.
Like relics from a bygone era, the swaying if not sturdy craft shuttle through the city's narrow canals, called klongs in Thai, proudly heralding the refusal of a relatively small clique of residents to submit to the chaos of car culture or join the masses on the underground.
But while many cling proudly to the city's past, the future has caught up with Bangkok as the teeming city of 10 million will soon see one of its treasured symbols disappear forever.
"My business will not last long, maybe five or six years," says Chavalit Methayaprapas, owner of the Transportation Family Company, the only firm licensed to operate the klong service over the past 15 years.
"The government will extend its subway service to Bang Kapi (in Bangkok's eastern suburbs) and then I think our passengers will turn to the new mass transit system," he tells AFP.
Chavalit is surprisingly unphased by the plans, and said he felt no sadness over the service's future demise.
"Our company will survive as I plan to do another business -- boat tours on the Chao Phraya River."
Many boat line employees and riders on Klong Saen Saep, the main route, say they have yet to see a decline in commuter passengers, but some concede the exodus has already begun.
One klong boat pilot said he estimated a 20 percent drop in ridership since he joined the company eight years ago.
The pilots are hardened servants, navigating treacherous turns and choppy waters at high speeds while dodging construction pylons, other careening boats, alarmingly low bridges and the occasional dead dog.
During the rainy season, the gray water polluted with raw sewage is often splashed up on unsuspecting commuters. Falling in could mean sickness or death.
Yet many commuters still swear by the boats. "It's super quick, and super cheap. They should continue to run the service for years," says passenger Pipat Wongsophonpattana, a 24-year-old office worker.
The fare is a maximum 15 baht, or about 35 cents. Rush hour boats pull up to the piers at one-minute intervals.
Not every Bangkok resident is a fan of klong transport, however.
"It smelled like a sewage pit, they barely stopped at the piers, and I had to do a stuntman's leap to get on," recalls Karishma Vyas, who had ridden a bus an hour to work at the United Nations office but switched to klong boats because they were quicker.
"It saved me an enormous amount of time, but when I got to work I smelled like I hadn't showered for a month. The drivers were kamikazes and I was holding on for dear life."
In the end she switched back to the buses.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, which is in negotiations to buy back the city's Skytrain and the subway from their operators, stresses klong transport is still very much a part of city life here.
"The government has no desire to see this service come to an end," Harbor Department pier security official Kiatisak Klinbua says as rush-hour commuters dart on and off the boats at a busy pier.
"It goes into heavily populated areas, and its faster -- but its possible the service will be reduced because of the subway."
Bangkok is in desperate need of mass transport options on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya, where road gridlock is notoriously bad but the Skytrain and subway have yet to penetrate.
Changes are on the drawing board. The subway is due for a 72-kilometre (45-mile) expansion by 2010 which will include the densely populated area where the Grand Palace, the UN compound and several ministries and tourist sites are located.
The subways governor, Prapat Chongsanguan, says that by then about 1.8 million people will be riding the underground every day, but refuted charges the service would drive the klong boats out of business.
"I still feel that people who travel by boat still need to use those boats," he said. "They're a major part of the transport system in Bangkok."
Kiaisak of the Harbour Department concurs. But when asked if he hops on the last boat at the end of the rush hour evening to head home, he shakes his head with a grin. "Nope, I drive a car."Help support the forums by making a donation today. Thank you.
22-05-07, 04:09 AM #2Forum Member
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Re: New bangkok subway could signal death knell
i think you have a good point .i hate the skytrain and the underground gives me goose bumps . its just too cold. maybe why you cant get a seat for all the thais
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