Bangkok, Thailand

From nycsubway.org

BTS - Skytrain

Until the late 1950s, Bangkok, Thailand had a thriving, complex, and efficient streetcar system. But like most cities around the world, the system was replaced by diesel-powered buses. As the population grew, so did the traffic. For years now, it has been the same old story - traffic so awful that it can take hours to get to a destination that could be reached more quickly on foot! Residents and visitors alike spend an hour in traffic going from the National Stadium to Sathon Bridge, for example, which can now be reached by train in just 13 minutes. Similarly, the ninety minute trip by car or bus from Sukhumvit Road to Mor Chit, is only a half hour by rail.

Opening day for the rail line, December 5, 1999 - the King's birthday (he was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the way!) - means a new way-of-life for Bangkokians. There are two lines: the Sukhumvit Line with 17 stations along its 10.5 mile length, and the Silom Line, with seven stations along its four mile run. Together, there will be 35 trains which will operate from approximately 5:00 am to midnight daily. Both lines are on elevated concrete structures about 35 feet up, supported by pillars placed approximately 100 feet apart. Tight financial constraints ruled out any elevators or escalators; one must climb the equivalent of four stories to reach the station platforms. No ADA compliance here!

Top speed of the third-rail powered trains is 80 kph (48 mph). Each car has 42 fiberglass seats, and numerous polls and overhead handholds for standees; cars measure approximately 10 ft. wide by 65 ft. long. There are four doors per side, and from all reports, excellent air conditioning (vital with Bangkok's tropical climate). Fares are collected automatically using magnetic strip cards. One hundred twenty-eight train operators have been hired, two of whom are women.

March, 2001 update: BTS (Skytrain) has now been in operation for 16 months. It is increasing in popularity, as evidenced by more crowding during rush hours, and more weekend usage as well. In October, 2000, BTS instituted various discount/multi-ride programs, and this seems to have helped. At 30-40 Baht (about $0.75-$1.00) for single rides, many Thai people were not able to afford commuting daily on the system, which is about four times the cost of a bus ride. 30 day passes are now available as follows:

  • Adult 10 Trip - 250 Baht (38% discount)
  • Adult 15 Trip - 300 Baht (50% discount)
  • Adult 30 Trip - 540 Baht (55% discount)
  • Student 10 Trip - 160 Baht (60% discount)
  • Student 15 Trip - 210 Baht (65% discount)
  • Student 30 Trip - 360 Baht (70% discount)

Since its opening, Bangkok's BTS Skytrain has primarily used mag-stripe cards for fare media, with RFID cards used only for frequent users who desire stored-value cards. Now, RFID proximity cards have been added for unlimited ride users. The mag-stripe cards are still used for exact-fare, distance-based single rides, and are retained by the exit gate.

The prox cards are available for multiple ride "SmartPass" users. Options are as follows:

  • 20 Trips = 440Baht (average 22B/trip) for adults; 340Baht (average 17B/trip) for students
  • 30 Trips = 600Baht (average 20B/trip) for adults; 450Baht (average 15B/trip) for students
  • 40 Trips = 800Baht (average 20B/trip, plus four free trips); 600Baht (average 15B/trip, plus four free trips) for students
  • (As of January, 2008, ~30Baht/1US$)

SmartPasses are valid for 30 days from first use, and have a five-year lifetime from date of first use. Unlimited travel distance is permitted per ride. (These fares are less of a concession than previously, where for example a 30 Trip card for adults was 540B.)

The newly-branded SKY SmartPass is a refillable prox card for those who ride less frequently. The intitial fee is 100Baht, with a minimum refill of 100Baht and maximum refill of 2000Baht. They have a five-year lifetime from date of first use. There is a 30Baht issuing fee for a new SmartPass, which is not included in the value of the card.

Finally, there is a one-day SmartPass featuring unlimited rides for 120Baht, that can be used only on date of issue. Distance-based rides can be up to 40Baht, and so for those who will travel just a few round-trips in one day will find this a bargain.

MRT - Subway

The first subway in Thailand opened in August, 2004 (the "Skytrain" elevated system opened five years ago). The name "Chaloem Ratchamongkhon" means "Celebration of the Auspicious Kingship." This first line (two additional ones are planned) runs for 20 km and has 18 stations. Operation of the MRT was awarded to the Bangkok Metro Public Company Limited (BMCL) by the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand on August 1, 2000.

Trains run seven days from 6am to midnight, with frequencies of five minutes during rush hour, and ten minutes at other times. Stations are clean and bright. Three-car unified articulated trains are run, though the stations are long enough to accomodate six-car trains for future expansion. Platform screen doors are employed, so that stations may be kep air conditioned. This, however, does not permit one to view the trains' exterior, since all stations are underground. I assume that they look much like the Skytrain, since the interiors are nearly identical.

There are two types of fare media. Contactless smart cards (using RFID technology and proximity readers) are stored value cards, and fares are deducted based upon distance travelled. Cards may be purchased with a minimum of 300 Baht (approximately 40 Baht to the US dollar), including a 50 Baht deposit. Funds can be added, with a card's maximum value allowed at 1,000 Baht. When exiting the system, the card's remaining value is shown on the exit gate.

For single rides, one may purchase a "token" at either the ticket window, or through a vending machine. A simple touch screen system allows you to choose the value required for your journey. Tokens also use RFID technology, so they can be "tapped" at the entrance gate; then they are deposited into the exit gate at the end of the journey and retained.

Normal adult fares range from 14 to 36 Baht (approximately $0.35 to $0.95) depending upon distance travelled. Children (90 to 120 cm tall) and seniors (65 years and older) are half fare. For the first year of operation (through August, 2005), a 15% discount is offered all passengers.

Currently, there are no multi-use plans (i.e. daily/weekly unlimilted or non-distance sensitive fares such as are offered on the Skytrain), but it is expected they will be introduced in 2005.

At three of the stations, one can interchange between MRT and Skytrain, but separate fares and fare cards are required, since the two operations are run by separate corporations.

Automated announcements in both Thai and English announce the next station, and messages to "mind the gap when alighting." There is an operator in the cab of each train, but ATO is used and he/she monitors operations. A uniformed guard is also on-board each train; additional guards patrol the stations.

The end-to-end MRT ride takes approximately 30 minutes. In Bangkok traffic, this can be two hours in a car! It's a great system, and I hope they move ahead with the other two lines. The speed and comfort are wonderful.

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