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what Chiang Mai needs is a good transportation network

Dear Editor:

Since 2003, I have been visiting Chiang Mai at least once a year. I eagerly awaited and finally tried the new (but overdue) bus service when it first started in late 2006. Initially, a number of services criss-crossed the city to points of interest outside it, such as the aiport, railway station, the zoo and the botanical garden. So far so good, and I was overjoyed. It had a winning feature too -- just 15 baht for a cool ride.

However, as with promising winners, there were many 'buts': the bus stops were hard to find, the wait was long in the hot sun, and there was no published time and frequency table in English. Both the Arcade bus terminus and the tourist office did not even have a usable timetable. In recent years bus routes were amended, but no mention was made of these at the stops. As a great believer in buses, I waited nearly one hour on several occasions for the white bus to arrive, which of course never did because I finally convinced myself the services were removed.

Despite these 'devil is in the detail' problems, I was not deterred from using buses every time I was in Chiang Mai.

Over the years, however, I have seen neither improvement nor upgrading of service. In all honesty, I think Chiang Mai's fledging bus service has deteriorated. This is evident in the many sheltered bus stops along Huay Kaew Road with seats that are damaged or caked with dust and outdated route maps yellowed with age.

How did Chiang Mai's bus service come to such a state?

The main issue seems to be the lack of passenger traffic due to the abundance of songthaews which are run as small family concerns vying for business with countless tut-tuts, yellow-top and private taxis. It's lamentable most are cruising empty and only contributing to unwanted traffic jams and pollution. Tourists are unused to haggling fares and unsure whether they should take the red, yellow, maroon or white Songthaews which also often use circuitous routes, causing time delays and overcharging. I once had a 'first in, last out' journey which took me over an hour from Huay Kaew Road to reach Warorot Market because the driver dropped fares off at Chang Puak, Khuan Shin, Holiday Inn, and finally to my destination by way of Charoenprathek Road.

Some months back, I read reports that Chiang Mai citizens were opposed to the widening of congested city roads out of fear that the proposed improvements would disrupt the traditional charm of the moated city. as resident-stakeholders, it is understandable that citizens want to preserve the city's old-world ambience. However, they must also know that a viable transportation system is imperative to, and a strong impetus for the successful emergence of Chiang Mai as Thailand's second city.

By all means, preserve the ancient pratu gates and old Lanna landmarks, erect overpass and underpass outside the moat, but do allow the city's main roads to be broadened as clear arteries regulating the flow of both passenger and vehicular traffic, which is bound to increase going forward. Chiang Mai is the heart of North Thailand and the city roads must not be clogged. Surely, we do not wish to see the ensuing crippling of the economy of the region as a result of preventable 'arteriosclerosis' of the city's traffic system.

With widened city roads, we can have regular scheduled buses which have the ability to move more people in and beyond the city at designated bus stops with proper signages. The number of songthaews on the road can then be reduced, or restrictions imposed such as limiting them to picking up fares at only major pratus, or allowing only a certain number to circulate within the city at off-peak hours.

So that it's a win-win situation, songthaew driver-owners can be encouraged to give up their licences in exchange for ownership shares in the amalgamated bus company comprising the current municipal bus and private managers of the songthaews. And to ensure their livelihood and loyalty, they may also be trained and re-employed as fleet managers, drivers, driving instructors, bus inspectors, conductors, mechanics or customer support staff. As for the retired songthaew vans, these may be re-cycled as rental vehicles and delivery trucks for hyperstores and local manufacturers, and even families moving houses.
The governor of Chiang Mai province must be empowered to make these sweeping changes, including the ratio of buses to songthaews, tuk-tuks and taxis. Some profit each year for the next 5 to 10 years from this expanded company should be earmarked for transport-related developments, such as free-to-use bicycles.

In short, Chiang Mai needs a proper transportation system whereby songthaews can co-exist in harmony with city buses, and where cannabalisation of routes and pollution are kept to the minimum. As sweetener for city dwellers, perhaps free-to-use bicycles may be allowed within the city that is off-limits to songthaews and buses. I am sure international travellers for once will find this little addition a charming feature of an enchanting city in the Land of Smiles.

A thousand miles journey begins with the first important step. And Chiang Mai citizens will be credited with taking this first step.

Yours sincerely,
David Lam, Singapore

Smoking violations

Dear Editor
I have lived in Chiang Mai near Loi Kroh since the anti-smoking law went into effect in early January. Sometimes the law is obeyed voluntarily, but when it isn't, most establishments refuse to tell people that they are not allowed to smoke. If I am eating dinner, can I leave without paying? How should I report these violations?

Concerned non-smoker

Thais at risk working in Sweden

Dear Editor,
Today the news in Swedish newspapers is that the predicted harvest of wild blueberries is going to be very poor due to the dry and cold summer of 2011.

The recent years there hve been a large number of poor Thai people trying to make a profit of picking berries in Sweden. Often they have been brought here on false promises by dishonest agents and according to several news articles many have returned to Thailand heavily in debt.
An article in your newspaper, quoting the recent predictions, may prevent some personal tragedies happening also this year.

Here's a link to the news from the most respected Swedish Agricultural research center (unfortunately in Swedish):

Kind regards
/H.Edman, Skogas, Sweden

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

what Chiang Mai needs is a good transportation network

Smoking violations

Thais at risk working in Sweden