BMA must push through plans to link up transportation systems via joint ticketing and revenue sharing

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has offered to broker a deal to get operators of rail-based mass-transit systems to enter into joint-ticketing and revenue-sharing arrangements that would enable commuters to switch between different modes of transportation with greater convenience. The initiative, which would enable passengers to enjoy seamless service combining both above-ground public transportation and the city’s subway to get to their destinations, is long overdue. Previous attempts fell through because of disagreements on how to share revenue among operators. Revenue-sharing is complicated by the fact that not only are the operating costs of the systems so vastly different, but some of the operators, such as Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS), also have a huge debt burden, which contributes to the difficulty in negotiating the deal.

BTS, the operator of the Skytrain, is a private company that invested in the construction of its own elevated rail system, which covers 55 kilometres on two lines. The company has just completed a business-rehabilitation process and found new strategic partners. BTS continues to be weighed down by huge debts that were the result of the devaluation of the baht in the 1997 financial crisis.

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA), a state enterprise, is in the process of expanding its current 20-km-long underground line to almost 300km over the next several years. The MRTA invested in the construction of the underground tunnels with taxpayers’ money, while the private consortium that invested in the installation of the rail system was granted the concession to operate it.

It is obvious that different cost structures will continue to be a sticking point that will prevent any move toward joint-ticketing and cost-sharing arrangements. That is unless, of course, the BMA comes up with some truly brilliant ideas based on a careful analysis that takes into account differences in cost structures that all parties find satisfactory.

The Bangkok city government, which has invested in the construction of short extensions to existing Skytrain lines and a rapid-bus system, has just started negotiating with BTS on how to share revenue, a process that is expected to take more than a year to complete. Another reason the BMA is anxious to get the idea moving is that it also plans to operate a Bus Rapid Transit system, which requires low start-up capital as it will run exclusively in bus lanes and can be linked to rail-based systems.

The Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning Office has been trying for some time to convince operators of rail-based and bus transportation systems to agree to a joint-ticketing and revenue-sharing scheme, but to no avail.

In taking the lead in the negotiations among transport service providers, the BMA appears to be more ambitious. Bangkok city government officials stated that a proposed draft memorandum of understanding that addresses the concerns of all concerned parties must be drawn up, to be followed by trial runs.

All parties involved will be asked to experiment with different rates of revenue sharing during the trial period so that they can come up with some idea of what would constitute a fair division of revenue, which can then be used as a basis for further negotiations.

The central government may have a role to play in fostering creative public-private partnerships and innovative programmes with the ultimate objective of improving passengers’ mobility and convenience in their use of different modes of transportation.

Operators of transport services must be persuaded that everyone will gain by working together to provide seamless connections at all stages of a passenger’s trip: from home to a transit station, the use of the interconnected lines and the final leg of the journey from the transit station to the destination.

Operators may be forced to collect lower fares per passenger due to revenue-sharing, but all of them can expect many more passengers who may switch from personal vehicles and other modes of transport as a result of the greater convenience and speed of the alternate choices.