Development and Urbanization
Bangkok was recently ranked with the world’s second-worst traffic congestion and the transportation sector emits a quarter of the city’s emissions. Also, many middle- and upper-income suburbanites drive to work in the inner city while the poor either work near their residences or travel to work using public transportation or motorcycles. Therefore, there is a pressing need to conduct research on means to improve Bangkok’s transportation system, in particular to reduce congestion and emissions and improve mobility for the poor. While buses comprise a large proportion of commuting and other travel, it has not received the attention it deserves in transportation system. Improving Bangkok’s bus system would not only reduce traffic congestion, but also improve the mobility of lower-income residents while reducing carbon emissions and air pollution. However, as any resident would say, the bus system urgently needs significant improvement. The buses cover limited parts of the city, have low operating speed, poor reliability, and are of substandard. Many have not been upgraded for years – residents have had to wait more than ten years for new buses to come on-line. This paper therefore seeks to add to the limited literature on the urban governance of Bangkok by presenting the political economy of Bangkok’s bus system. It examines power relations between actors, policies, discourses, and describes how quotidian practices have contributed to the system’s underperformance. It then identifies political and economic bottlenecks that are preventing the system from being upgraded and proposes potential solutions to address these bottlenecks.