How the Thai Military Junta Plans to Solve Bangkok Traffic

Bangkok has some of the world’s worst traffic. It may not be quite as bad as Jakarta or Manila, but traffic in Bangkok is certainly far worse than anything most Americans have ever experienced.

Thailand hasn’t seen the extremes that have occurred outside Beijing, for instance, such as the extensive rail network. And though infrastructure projects have long been a source of corruption in the country, they’ve continued to invest in roads and expressways. Say what you will about the rest of Thailand, but Bangkok hasn’t lacked for infrastructure investment — yet that hasn’t made a dent in traffic.

(Credit: Gemma Longman)

So the Thai military junta is trying a new approach: The city’s police chief has been given 3 months to fix the problem. That’s the approach.

Acting Metropolitan Police chief Sanit Mahathavorn has been given three months to solve Bangkok’s traffic gridlock otherwise he could face the music, police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said.

Pol Gen Chakthip said he had instructed Pol Lt Gen Sanit to reduce congestion by 40-50% by February because of the many complaints from the public.

…”I am not a power-monger who transfers his men without proper justification. If he is good, he will get my backing…”

The police chief said the acting Metropolitan Police chief could face repercussions if he cannot accomplish his assignment.

I expect this to work as well as the Pattaya police chief telling officers to stop taking bribes, the junta providing free, comprehensive nationwide wifi, or the military government successfully stamping out bad Thai food around the world.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The MTR and BTS are the best ways to beat Bangkok traffic although they get crowded too. The brave can take a motorcycle taxi.

    If the new chief is really under a lot of pressure, I can see coming up with a “solution” like restricting the number of cars in some way. Good luck to him.

  2. this military dictatorship is a joke. of course, the Thai people get what they deserve, as, until it directly and dramatically affects THEIR personal life, they don’t have the will to resist a dictatorship beyond noisy marches and paid camping out in a park. as to the traffic, people in bkk drive/buy cars for reasons beyond logic. they do it for status and to be seen as having money. very few people in bkk need a car, yet they are now making bkk a parking lot. used to be almost all taxis. not anymore. they need more capacity on the MRT and BTS (more train cars). as to the traffic czar- i imagine odd/even driving days are coming- which, frankly, i think is a good idea if they admin-ed it right (but TIT, so it won’t be and would be full of kickbacks, bribes, incompetence).

  3. collect more tea money at bogus traffic stops, forcing more persons not to drive
    ( the unwritten plan)

  4. The studies have already been done on how to cure the traffic congestion (paid studies that were reported to previous governments). The answer to this is simple: end the corruption.

    Automate the lights based upon the proven wave travel characteristics of traffic – the way every other major city in the world runs their lights. Get rid of all the “police” that sit in their booths manually changing lights from green to red.

    Of course, the police would lose jobs and hiso folks could no longer call ahead to their paid traffic controller to get the light green, and we can’t have the police force losing that revenue stream, now can we?

  5. Timing is everything: I booked my flights to arrive and depart Bangkok BKK between 12:00 p.m. and 2 p.m. on a weekday. No problems, a bit heavy crossing one of the bridges but it’s the best method (aside from flying in/out at 2 a.m.) to avoid airport-city center traffic nightmares. Taking the train was impractical with heavy bags – and horrific high temps and humidity – and even if I did I would have had to get a taxi at the station for the remainder of the trip to the hotel. Once in BKK I traveled by river boat or by taxi during late morning to early afternoon, again, no problems encountered, and this was in central Bangkok.

  6. Your best bet is to book a hotel near a BTS/MRT station, arrive during day time and take trains everywhere: much faster and more convenient then taxis. And you avoid the taxi scams as well!
    The only solution that has been successful elsewhere is congestion pricing in Singapore, but that won’t happen anytime soon in Other SE Asian cities – every car would need an electronic transponder to pay as you go.
    Manila has number coding that prohibits cars to drive one week day based on last digit of license place: doesn’t work at all, families buy multiple, old cars and switch as needed!

  7. BTS , Bangkok Transit System AKA the Sky Train . Easy to learn , easy to use though sometimes very crowded . Check Streetview for hotels or apartments near the BTS . Taxis aren’t bad either but they can get bogged in traffic while the train keeps running . You don’t really want to ride a tuk-tuk during heavy traffic .
    MRT is the underground system . Not so good for sight seeing .

  8. @Steve R – for the airport runs you presumably took the Chonburi Expressway though, so any traffic would have been limited to the local streets getting on/off. Midday traffic can be better, but in some areas can still be pretty awful..

  9. Do like they do in Oslo set up a Government toll for entering the city and for driving on certain roads. Raised some tax revenue and forces people to stay away from city center.

  10. I guess the only problem is there is no “city center” per se. Bangkok is sprawling. While there are some main thoroughfares like Sukhumvit, Sathorn, Silom and the areas down around Sanom Luang, it’s really one big spaghetti of expressways and local streets. So I’m not sure where you would try and charge congestion pricing. It’s all congested.

    While it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been there (something I will remedy in a few days), I’ve never had too much trouble traveling outside of the main rush hour times. After the evening rush is over you could get around OK. And midday usually not bad either. This time around I’ll arrive at midnight when things are still happening but traffic is manageable.

  11. We were in Bangkok last Feb, and the evening traffic was a nightmare. It could easily take 30 minutes to go 6 blocks. We quickly learned that it made no sense to try to go anyway that wasn’t within walking distance of the MTR and BTS after 5 pm. Meaning having dinner in either the high priced luxury hotel restaurants, or on the street. The reasonably priced restaurants that were highly rated on Trip Advisor were just inaccessible within any reasonable time frame.

    We thought the heat and humidity would be our major challenge, but the traffic turned out to be the main reason we won’t be going back. Luckily our 5 nights there was long enough to see most everything at the top of our ‘must-see’ list. And most of the major temples are accessible by taking the MTR, and then transferring to the river boats. We tried taking the bus back to the hotel from the river the first day. Never did THAT again… 🙁

  12. @abby said “this military dictatorship is a joke. of course, the Thai people get what they deserve, as, until it directly and dramatically affects THEIR personal life, they don’t have the will to resist a dictatorship beyond noisy marches and paid camping out in a park”.
    So what do you recommend? Some sort of bloody uprising that will magically cure all traffic woes (we’ve seen how well that has worked in the middle east)? You think that the traffic does not affect their lives? We just drop in for a week or two and are inconvenienced when we cannot arrive at our tourist or restaurant destination in a timely manner. The Thai people have to live with it every day.

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