This week came the announcement that my home city Melbourne has been chosen as one of three cities to ‘luck enough’ too experience Uber Air before anyone else, with the ride-sharing giant announcing that test flights will begin in 2020.
In a statement released, Uber announced Melbourne would join Los Angeles and Dallas as trial cities for the aerial service, which aims to “open up urban air mobility and help alleviate transportation congestion on the ground”.
The recent artist’s impressions that the transportation juggernaut released also shows well to do businessman looking down over the masses stuck in the ‘real world’ as they gleefully traverse from one meeting to another.
However, whilst many in Melbourne believe the latest ‘announcement’ is actually little more than a marketing ploy by a company that still fails to make a dollar. This literally two-tied mode of transportation reminded of what is actually happening in my the rapidly progressing city of Bangkok.
The Bangkok Mass Transit System, commonly known as the BTS or the Skytrain (rot fai fa), began as a congestion alleviating concept in the 1980’s. An early version of the Skytrain project was known as the Lavalin Skytrain because it was designed using the Vancouver system as a model and adopting it’s technology.
However due to political interference plans were cancelled in June 1992, despite Bangkok’s chronic traffic congestion. The Thai Government focused on increasing road and expressway infrastructure in an attempt to reduce congestion.
Although this had little impact as the number of cars on the road continued to increase dramatically, and city hall conceded that an elevated rail would need to be built. The next few years bought downtown Bangkok to a near standstill and caused even further transportation issues whilst construction was undertaken.
On 5 December 1999 Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opened the now famous transportation system with a record 760,000 passengers travelling on Sunday, 22 December 2013.
Howeverwhilst many acknowledge the amazing ability of this service to combat road congestion, the fees currently being charged to travel is starting to reach a level that many ‘ordinary’ Thai’s state is consuming a major chunk of their monthly wages.
In April this year the current maximum BTS fare will increase from THB52 to THB57. This equates the cost of going to and from work at THB114 a day ($5.33AUD).
For your average westerner reading this article this might not seem like a lot, however currently, the minimum salary in Bangkok is still only 325 Baht ($15.21AUD) per day. Representing a near third of one’s after-tax wage spent on travel and an impossible proposition to request.
However with regular price increases it is not just Bangkok’s cooks and cleaners that are feeling the cost of living pinch. The average wage for an office worker in Bangkok is 25,500 Thai Baht per month, back of the napkin math would determine that THB 114 a day x 5 days x 4.2 weeks a month = THB 2,394 or 9.38% of one monthly after-tax wage spent of transportation.
If the Thai Government wants to ensure its middle class can continue to get to work they will need to explore either subsiding travel or introducing capped fee increases. Although with the top
military Government travelling only with a police escort may would be unaware what is the daily plight for millions of their citizens.
Straight to Malaysia and the Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali for the first time openly accused party insiders of masterminding the release of the gay sex video in which he allegedly appears, a move set to stoke tensions within Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Since the video was released on June 11, speculation had been swirling that a rival faction within PKR, led by party president Anwar Ibrahim, could be behind the video’s release to weaken Datuk Seri Azmin, a rising political star in the year-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
Asked by reporters on Tuesday if he was convinced the video was an inside job given the recent turn of events, Mr Azmin was quoted as saying by The Star Online: “I am convinced. From the very beginning, I am sure that this has a political agenda, done by certain people who intend to halt my progression in the government as well as in politics.”
Accusing political rivals of ‘gay’ activity has been a stalwart of South East Asian politics in the Muslim strongholds of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei for years, however the tactic continues to be effective with the countries hardliners.
Keeping on the theme of supposed ‘vice’ the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has imposed a 10,000 baht ($437AUD) fine on a hotel in the Charansanitwongse area of the capital’s Bangkok Yai district for improperly disposing of used condoms and toiletry items.
The items were found at the weekend floating in a canal, leading to images circulated by Thai netizens expressing their disgust. City workers completed removing the the ‘used items’ from the canal – which connects to the Wat Tha Phra, Wat Tha Mul and Wat Dee Duat canals – by midnight on Sunday (June 16).
Having found no hotel executives on the premises, and only maids, the officials learnt that the hotel occasionally hired a Nakhon Pathom-based company to send workers to collect used condoms and garbage from the hotel’s five septic tanks, none of which were connected to the canal. They were told that the company’s workers had last cleared the tanks on Saturday.
As reported a few weeks ago the African swine fever outbreak is continuing to cause havoc amongst pig breeders in Vietnam and has resulted in more than 2.5 million pigs being culled to contain the outbreak.
The virus, which is only deadly to pigs, was first detected in Vietnam in February and has spread to farms in 58 of the country’s 63 provinces, according to Mr Nguyen Van Long, head of epidemiology at Vietnam’s Department of Animal Health. A second senior official at the department said it was “only a matter of time” before the disease spreads to all 63 provinces.
Pork accounts for three-quarters of total meat consumption in Vietnam, a country of 95 million people where most of its 30 million farm-raised pigs are consumed domestically. Vietnam said last month it would mobilise its military and police forces to help combat the outbreak, and called on people not to turn their backs on pork consumption.
The Week Ahead:
The topic of over tourism has been in the media this week with reports that the European city of Barcelona has stopped giving out any further hotel licenses. I will explore the future for Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Harrison White can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org