Sunday, September 1, 2013

After a 3rd-class train ride, Transport Minister should fly economy

Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt has taken a rough bus ride and discovered that City bus No 8 is the worst.

He has also taken an 8-hour train ride to the northeastern province of Surin and found that toilets on the lowest-class train carriage were dirty and lacking in running tap water.

He also wrote in his Facebook that Train 135, a third-class route, also saw a 30-minute delay and the carriage was not in good condition.

Now, he should take the cheapest seat on the national airline to determine how it can get out of its financial trouble.

The minister’s staff had earlier set up a Facebook page to seek reactions from bus passengers about bus services during Aug 6-14. It didn’t take long before complaints started pouring in and City Bus No 8 got the highest number of negative comments.

Passengers complained about drivers and conductors having bad manners and speeding past waiting passengers. Some let passengers off in the middle of roads. Black fumes and engine problems added to the list of “unbearable services.”

If you remember, the minister had earlier taken a bus trip to work in Bangkok but had to get off and jump on a motor-cycle taxi because of the long delays on the route.

Minister Chadchart’s ride on the slow train to Surin wasn’t disclosed until he had finished the ride, he wrote, so that he could find out for himself how the State Railways of Thailand’s service was like before reacting to the request to raise fees for third-class train service by 10%.

What he found talking to train drivers and police confirmed his suspicion that the service was far below standards. They told him about old locomotives, worn-out or used train parts, lack of qualified personnel and uneven distribution of assignments among the staff.

Now, that THAI has reported a net loss of 8.4 billion baht in the second quarter, the transport minister should disguise himself as an ordinary passenger on all the airlines that compete directly with the national carrier – as well as take the lowest seat on one of the THAI flights to find out just how to get the airline out of trouble – and, as he told reporters, to determine whether it’s the result of management problems.

The minister might find that the country’s bus, train and airline services suffer from a similar setback: They are tied to politics and bureaucracy and nobody, not even the country’s best manager, can turn them around under the current management structures.

Attempts to “privatize” the train and bus services have been made on a regular basis, to no avail. Moves to improve efficiency have at best been no more than lip service. Reasons for the failure of these transport services to seriously serve the public are no secrets. Management objectives have never been about improving the bottom lines by giving top priority to customer service.

It’s all about politicians, once in power, demanding the rights to put their own people at the top posts to promote their own influence and benefits.

The national airline is supposed to be a publicly-listed company but the finance ministry remains the major shareholder and the Royal Thai Air Force insists upon its say in the management. In other words, the airline remains officially a “public company” that is controlled by political and bureaucratic interests. Paying passengers do not come first, as they should in a real business concern, in the overall scheme of things. This despite the fact that the national carrier has to compete head-on with all the other international carriers that have to be run professionally to survive in the increasingly challenging airline business.

If Minister Chadchart takes a really long airline flight after his adventures on the bus and train, he might find that there is a common solution to all the problems plaguing our transportation services: Get the politicians out and let the professionals in

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