Island View: Phuket Transportation situation not all that bad

The following opinion piece, conducted by the Siamerican, was initially published in the Island View column of the Phuket Gazette newspaper’s December 17-23, 2011 edition.

MANY o’coffee break and lunch hour have dwindled away in what to me is rapidly becoming one of the most annoying topics of debate: Phuket’s transportation system, or lack thereof.

Ask most expatriate residents and self-proclaimed gurus on an indefinitely extended holiday, about the situation, and they’ll matter-of-factly inform you that the island’s infrastructure is a product of the local mafia.

Dare to entertain such a notion and you’ll learn that the only hope for Phuket – these ever-enlightened wise men insist – is for “Bangkok muscle” to come in and sweep the island clean. That way Phuket can become just like Pattaya, Bangkok or any other place o’er the rainbow, take your pick.

One thing in particular that gets my blood boiling is the insistence that recently implemented taxi fare standards in Phuket are unreasonable – that a 48 kilometer trip (45 minutes to an hour) from Phuket International Airport to Karon beach at 1,300 baht is “ridiculous and a comparable trip anywhere else in the world would be cheaper”.

Let’s expel such myths once and for all. From Hong Kong International Airport to Aberdeen (about 44 kilometers for a 40-60 minute commute) a metered taxi would cost about 375 Hong Kong Dollars or about 1,400 baht; similarly, a taxi from London Heathrow Airport to Central London would be no less than 42 UK pounds (about 2,000 baht); from Tokyo Narita Airport to central Tokyo, minimum 20,000 yen (about 7,900 baht). Indeed, comparable trips (using distance and/or time as a factor) by taxi in Paris, Berlin, Oslo, Amsterdam Sydney, Zurich, Rome, New York, and Honolulu would all cost more than 1,300 baht!

Even if this is Thailand, let’s not dismiss the fact that Phuket boasts the highest cost of living in the country. Personally, I am not willing to pay 1,300 baht to get to Karon from the airport. But if I were here on holiday with the goal of getting to my hotel ASAP, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay such a fare.

However, as a Phuket resident living on modest earnings, the choice is simple: get your own wheels or suck it up and use the local public transport.

Before I finally got my car, I was accustomed to using local public transportation, which is cheap and reliable during standard working hours. If I ever needed to get to Karon from the airport on a budget, I would just catch the airport bus to Phuket Town, about an hour commute at 80 baht. From there, I would continue on a 40 baht songtaew the rest of the way, an additional 30 minutes. Creating a total price, for only a slightly extended commute, of 120 baht.

Perhaps someday the proposed direct bus will do the same trip in under an hour for 100 baht or less. In the mean time, the transport situation in Phuket will continue to improve – even if such progress happens in tiny increments. Change is inevitable, and the best changes won’t likely happen overnight.

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