Congestion in Bangkok: Lessons from London and Singapore

This is a term paper from Intro to Regional Planning Class, Fall 2015, University of Wisconsin Madison. This paper aims to explore traffic congestion problems in Bangkok in a view of regional planning organization, and 2 case studies from London and Singapore.

A full paper can be downloaded here.

Existing issues of traffic congestion in Bangkok Metro Area

The causes of congestion problems in Bangkok Metropolitan Area can be divided into 4 main issues: number of private vehicles, inefficiency of road system planning compared to cities in developed countries, lack of regional transportation policy, and fragmented governance between Bangkok City and five adjacent provinces. Each of them will be discussed one by one.

High rate of private vehicles per capita


Figure 2 Vehicles per 1,000 population of Bangkok Metro and other sample cities

Bangkok city has very high number of private vehicles per 1,000 population, at 605 vehicles. Compared to the samples of cities in developed countries, Bangkok has roughly twice by Paris and Berlin; 2.5 times by Tokyo; three times number of vehicles by Inner London or London urban core areas, and 6 times by Singapore.

In addition, the number of vehicles per 1,000 population of Bangkok Metropolitan Area is 371 vehicles, compared to Greater London Area at 303 vehicles and Singapore at 113 vehicles. The Bangkok Metro has higher number of vehicles by 1.2 times than Greater London and 3 times than Singapore.

Inefficiency of Road System Planning

The second issue of traffic congestion in Bangkok Metropolitan Area is inefficiency of road design. The issue can be divided into two subcategories: low road coverage percentage and low street connectivity index compared to cities which have better traffic conditions in developed countries.

Firstly, Bangkok has lower road coverage percentage to total region’s area compared to cities in developed countries. From the UNHabitat’s Proportion of Land Allocated to Street 2013, Bangkok has percentage of road coverage only 15.90% in the city core area and 5.80% in the suburban compared to the other cities, above 20% in city core and 10% in suburbs (See Figure 2). The number indicates that congestion problems in Bangkok Metropolitan Area are caused by inadequacy of road surfaces.


Figure 3 Proportion of Land Allocated to Street (2013)

Secondly, roads and streets in Bangkok are not effectively connected to each other. Composite Street Connectivity index of Bangkok is 14.90% in the city core area and 5.30% in the suburban areas. Compare to the other cities, above 20% in city cores, and 10% in suburbs (except Singapore). The number indicates that Bangkok Metro has many cul-de-sacs which decrease flow and efficiency of road transportation.


Figure 4 Composite Street Connectivity Index (2013)

Transportation Policies of Bangkok Metropolitan Area

The Bangkok metro region has no effective transportation policy to control increasing number of vehicles. Also, the BMA has no authority for transportation-related plan proposal and implementation process. Only operation and monitoring process are executed by BMA itself. Lack of regional policies can cause the region to be affected by policies from the other levels of the government. Such as the federal policy on Car Subsidy in 2011 which has the direct effects to Bangkok Metro region’s growth of vehicle populations and worse transportation conditions.

The Metro Area has been affected by 2011 First Car Subsidy Program, a federal level policy to subsidy THB 100,000 (approximately USD 2850) to every first car buyer. The policy was passed by the cabinet resolution in September, 2011, aimed to promote economic activities and automobile industries after losses from the flood hazards in the early 2011. This program has been accounted from October 1st, 2011 to December 31st, 2012, with funding from Ministry of Finance to pay the THB 100,000 margins back to the vehicle buyers. The result of the program is more than subsidized 367,000 cars, pick-ups, and double cabs were registered in Bangkok Metropolitan Area or 30% of all First Car Program Registered cars in the country (The Exercise Department, 2013). The subsidy program has made the number of licensed cars in Bangkok metro increased from roughly 4-7% increases annually to 10-11% in 2011-2012.

As Bangkok Metropolitan Area lacks of effective transportation policies to control number of vehicles and traffic authority by itself, the region has direct negative effects from the First Car Subsidy Program and has a potential to be affected by conflicting future federal policies.


Figure 5 Number of Licensed Cars in BMA, Greater London, and Singapore (2004-2014)


Table 1Number of cars in BMA, Greater London, and Singapore (2004-2014)

Bangkok Metro Registered Cars % Changes  Greater London Registered Cars % Changes  Singapore Registered Cars % Changes
2004        2,715,787           2,523,129              417,103
2005        2,996,182 10%           2,561,914 2%              438,194 5%
2006        3,296,735 10%           2,560,103 0%              472,308 8%
2007        3,411,987 3%           2,578,943 1%              514,685 9%
2008        3,521,369 3%           2,594,741 1%              550,455 7%
2009        3,663,004 4%           2,556,729 -1%              576,988 5%
2010        3,893,082 6%           2,557,384 0%              595,185 3%
2011        4,160,913 7%           2,542,734 -1%              603,723 1%
2012        4,618,877 11%           2,535,453 0%              617,570 2%
2013        5,090,310 10%           2,549,275 1%              621,345 1%
2014        5,386,893 6%           2,588,373 2%              616,609 -1%


Fragmented Governances between Bangkok City and Five Adjacent Provinces

Some congestion problems in Bangkok Metropolitan Area are caused by fragmented governance and lack of authority to control the region.

Bangkok Metropolitan Authority has no authority to make comprehensive plans for the Bangkok Metro Area by itself. As mentioned previously, the comprehensive plans for the region are compiled by the National and Regional Planning Bureau, Department of Public Works and Town & Country Planning, Ministry of Interior. The transportation strategies have been accommodated in the plan roughly. While the strategic plans for transportation and transit systems are compiled by Office of Transportation and Traffic Policy and Planning, Ministry of Transport.

Fragmented intergovernmental cooperation with lack of regional authority over the whole metro area of the BMA cause conflicts in the BTS light rail system since 2011. The extensions of existing light rail system from city core of the metro area to the suburbs, from Onnut to Bearing Station, could open for services after the construction was completed in 2009, or for approximately 2 years. The difficulty is caused by the fragmented authority between Bangkok city and the outer metropolitan areas. Bangkok Metropolitan Authority has no authority over the metro areas outside of Bangkok, and the inter-governmental implementation processes are struggled between the BMA and the provincial authorities.

The other issue is the extensions of the BTS system outside the boundaries of Bangkok City, Onnut Station to Bearing Station and Wongwienyai Station to Bangwa Station, is owned by BMA while the existing lines are the concession of the Bangkok Mass Transit System Public Company Limited. Unfortunately, BMA and the BTS Company cannot make an agreement on the fare charges. The result is passengers have been charged for additional THB 10 (approximately USD 0.27) fares for the extension (BTS, 2015).


Figure 6 BTS system map


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