Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXI

Case study:  Bangkok

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the lessons to be learnt from Bangkok’s land-use and transportation planning?

Today I’m going to be talking about Transit Oriented Development in Bangkok and its evidence and the challenges.

The objective of my talk today is basically I’m going to use the case of Bangkok to illustrate some of the key transportation challenges that are facing cities of today.

I’m going to use this case to illustrate how the transition towards transit-oriented development is taking place in a middle-income mega city such as Bangkok.

So let me first give you some overview of our Bangkok- it’s the capital of Thailand and is the centre of everything in Thailand but the city itself, actually goes beyond the boundary of Bangkok city. Bangkok city is surrounded by five other surrounding provinces, so the mega-city itself has more than 12 million people living in it, the city itself is about 1,500 square kilometres and it’s very flat and Bangkok is actually under the sea level.

In this map you can see that Bangkok is very well-built towards the suburbs and suburbanisation is continuing until today, and this has a lot of impact not only on the land use of the agricultural areas in the city and in the surrounding provinces but at the same time it creates a lot of problems in terms of the loss of agricultural land.

People have a long commute and they have to come from afar to go to job locations in the city and certainly traffic congestion that comes with it, the pollution problems as well as other issues related to sustainability such as energy consumption as well as issues of social cohesion.

Bangkok is actually a city with a lot of transportation modes unlike in North America where you know people have to rely on limited choices of transportation. In Bangkok there are a lot of modes – ranging from buses, passenger vans, Mass Transit Systems, the light rail and as well as Bus Rapid Transits.

We also have other kinds of informal transportation like what we call modes such as canal and river boats, but with modernisation of the city as well as the import of the idea of road-based development since the 1950s and 60s, the city transform from the water-based development to automobile oriented and now it’s automobile dominant but lately in the past 15 years the city is gradually shifting to rail-based city.

Transit development is now the core component of urban transport and land-use policy in Bangkok and it’s reflected in the capital investment in the city, a lot more money now is devoted to building transit systems. We already have about 86 kilometres and about 61 stations of Mass Rail Transit systems, so hopefully according to the master plan we will have a lot more Mass Rail Transit systems in the city.

Another interesting case for Bangkok is that there is a skywalk that’s happening. A skywalk is a structure that allows people to walk between stations and from stations to some buildings that are close by.

Originally it was not in the plan of the BTS, it was first developed by a department store that is located between two stations and this department store was the largest department store in Bangkok and in Thailand for that matter; but its main competitor was building another big mall right next to the transit station. This department store thought they would have to create some ways to attract the shoppers to their department store, so they actually financed construction of a skywalk that basically feed the passengers from the BTS to their department store but now it’s become the thing for any stations to the stations. So new buildings actually now have to pay a large sum of money to get connected to the sky train system and it became a source of revenue for the operator itself.

There are planning measures to support our transit oriented development, like more density allowed close to transit stations versus other parts of the city. We also propose to to have some legal changes in terms of minimum parking requirement for the city because it used to be that according to our building code each building has to provide enough parking space for the users or condominium residence but if you want to promote transit-oriented development you can almost get away with not having parking requirement and always force people to use to transit system. We’re thinking of some sort of, you know transfer of development rights for transit stations as well.

One issue is basically about institutional setup of the system. We have the BTS which sometimes we call it the skytrain, the BTS is actually elevated light rail, basically it’s operated by private concessionaire but its owned by Bangkok city government. We also have the Subway system- the MRT which is a state enterprise, but at the same time we also have a system that it’s run by the State Railway of Thailand which is sort of the existing system and a little bit of a transit system that links the airport to city also the Bus Rapid Transit which is owned by the city itself.

So you can see that there’s a variety of rail systems and organisations which create quite a bit of issues in terms of system integration and this is one of the key challenges because when we have a lot of different systems in place, the integration becomes a critical component and that’s one of the key challenges that we’re facing at the moment.

Certainly, inclusivity and affordability as much as we want to call these are rail systems, transit systems, mass rail transit systems, they’re not really “mass transit” at the moment.

We actually call it “class transit” because they’re actually quite expensive, so people who get onto these systems are primarily the middle class, young professionals who can afford a little more than what they would have to pay when they use the buses. So it’s still primarily class little bit, class transit a little bit in that sense. So the the issue of inclusivity is a matter that we really need to consider and gentrification is really happening. As  shown in this picture, there’s clear trend now that there are more condominium units being built each year than suburban detached houses and people are buying condominium units more and more as well. I have a student who’s a developer – his company actually has a policy that they will not build anything that is farther than 200 meters from a transit station.

So it clearly demonstrates the paradigm shift for sustainable transportation that is taking shape, not just the transportation itself but the land use, patterns that are happening at the same time. Policymakers don’t talk much about building expressways or highways, they talk more about transit systems – so that support is in place.

One urban component of Bangkok is shop houses. A lot of people live, used to live in shophouses although you know the houses are quite substandard in terms of housing quality but the poor can actually live in those places and close to their job locations in the city. But with transit-oriented development a lot of these shop houses are being torn down by the landlords and the landowners so that they can build high-rise buildings there, in place of the old buildings. So now you see some displacement going on that has been you know in a way caused by transit-oriented development. We try to find ways to deal with this kind of issue, low-income housing projects are being conceived close to transit stations in the suburbs because the National Housing Authority cannot find land in the city but at least they’re trying to accommodate this demand for the use of transit systems of the poor, allow them to at least live close to transit system in the suburbs so that they can enjoy these benefits of having transit systems there.

You cannot just promote transit-oriented development without thinking of other existing systems and one existing system that is really important is the bus system. You cannot ignore bus systems when you think about sustainable transportation and there’s fallacy I guess that you believe that if you build transit systems, everything will fall into place.

That’s not really the case. You really have to think about the feeder systems and also the existing bus systems. So if the devil lies in the feeder systems, the big elephant in the room is actually the land market.

Because in order to create transit-oriented development you have to do something with the land. The issue with Bangkok and a big challenge is land consolidation because in the inner parts of the city – land ownership tends to be fragmented but with fragmented landownership you cannot really build high, you cannot promote densification of that area. So the land market is critical.

The challenge is that how can you build some institutional setup or some legal framework that will allow a land consolidation to happen in the place where they should take place. So land market is really the key to transit oriented development and that’s a very big challenge that we’re facing at the moment in Bangkok.

So what is more to be done – certainly although I mentioned earlier that politicians are supporting this, policymakers are supporting our transit oriented development, we still have to keep changing the mindset of a lot more people. So we have to keep promoting transit systems and transit-oriented development, have to keep doing because it takes a long while especially among the younger generations of people, certainly the issues of integration among the informal transport and other systems as I mentioned earlier. All these cannot be successful without some sort of institutional realignment. Right now the institutional setup is so fragmented, you know, each organisation is dealing with different issues. So this kind of institutional arrangement has to take place.

Certainly you know you need some political support for that, I think we can go ahead with that; rationalisation of bus routes as I mentioned earlier but not as a competitor, direct competitor of the transit systems but as possibly the feeder system into the real system.

And also we lack this regional plan I think it’s the same everywhere in other cities in the world, especially in developing countries. As we know urban problems are not limited to administrative or political boundaries, they all go beyond that so some sort of regional plan and some agency, either informal organisation or some sort of formal council organisations that deal with regional issues have to be in place.

You cannot promote a sustainable transport without the equity issues. I would even argue that unless you take the equity issues seriously, you’re not going to be able to have sustainable transportation in the future because you end up having the poor using unsustainable modes of transportation.

So equity issues have to be at the heart of sustainable transportation, certainly that’s related to the issues of transport governance, corruption issues everywhere, especially when you deal with informal transportation because the mafia controlling you know most of this informal transport. So that issues, those issues have to be dealt with properly and we have opportunities that as well the ICTs, information technologies are changing everything – the Big Data, the IT portals and the smartphones and everything – those are the opportunities that I think we can utilise smartly so that we can create sustainable and equitable transportation not just in Bangkok, but in other cities in the world.