Traffic Jams Spread In " Number One " City
By Malivarn Simanithone, Lao National Radio, Laos
For Aart Roffel, a former Dutch tourist who decided to live in Chiang
Mai, the city is the "number one" place to live in Thailand. And many
Bangkok people seem to agree – coming to settle in the "rose of the north"
because of its climate, beauty and easy-going atmosphere. But is
Chiang Mai being "loved to death"?
Narumitrekakarn, an environmental activist and chairman of Chiang Mai
planning committee, a co-government-private sector planning body, moved to
the city 16 year ago with his wife because they thought Bangkok was
expensive, inconvenient and polluted. "My wife and I were refugees from
Bangkok," he says.
The popularity of Chiang Mai has
brought rapid development, from high-rise buildings and new roads to
overcrowding and traffic jams. Major worries, says experts, include
unplanned development, uncontrolled construction sites and serious air
pollution caused by road traffic and household
Traffic is among the worst problems. An estimated
90% of transport usage is private. Roads have become congested around
market and commercial areas, at major junctions and near schools when
parents drop off or collect their children. Traffic policemen, such as
Yuttana Klueawang, now wear masks to protect them from exhaust
"The number of cars increases but the roads are still
the same." Mr. Yuttana said.
Dr. Boonsong Satayopad, a
leading traffic expert at Chiang Mai University, said proper management of
the demand for travel was essential. Chiang Mai operates two "public
transport" systems, a fixed-route minibus between the suburbs and town and
a non-fixed route red minibus, or "songtaew", which costs 10 baht per
person. The songtaews can go anywhere but only operate where it is
Chiang Mai has over 3,000 privately owned
songtaews. Mr. Sithone, 47, bought his songtaew for over 400,000 baht and
has been driving it for 24 years. Each year he has to pay 700 baht in tax.
He has 26 passengers a day, most of them locals, and says he earns about
100-200 baht daily for nine hours’ work.
Mr. Tom, a "
tuk-tuk" driver, charges his customers, most of them foreigners, 40
baht a trip and earns 300-400 baht a day. Most tuk-tuk drivers have to
rent their machine from a tuk-tuk garage, he says. They pay 120 baht a
According to Dr.Boonsong, Chiang Mai must reduce private
transport if it is to beat congestion and pollution. It needs public
transport, conventional fixed route for buses and bicycle routes. With the
aid of a government grant, a Chiang Mai University team is currently
studying the scope for a bicycle network as well as improvements for
pedestrians. One possibility is narrowing roads and widening footpaths to
provide more space for pedestrians and bicycles.