Special Seminar by Dr. Saksith Chalermpong

Title: Lessons from passenger van regulation in Thailand
Speaker: Dr. Saksith Chalermpong, Associate Professor in civil engineering at Chulalongkorn University and also CSEAS visiting research scholar

Date and Time: June 7th, 2018 14:00 – 15:30
Place: Conference room (room no. 107) on the first floor of East building, CSEAS, Kyoto University
Moderator: Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Associate Professor, CSEAS

Passenger vans are widely used for public transportation in Thailand, both in urban and intercity services. In the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, private van operators provide fast, point-to-point services between activity centers in suburban to central areas, filling the gaps where the state-owned transit agencies are unable to serve. In intercity routes, van operators dominate short- and medium- distance routes under 300 kilometers all over the country. Passenger vans are popular mainly for three reasons. First, being small and highly maneuverable compared to full-size buses, passenger vans can be operated at a much faster speed, a great advantage especially in congested urban areas. Second, vans are highly accessible, with convenient pick-up and drop-off locations compared with buses, which can be boarded only at designated locations. Third, van services are more frequent than buses, particularly in high demand areas.

Despite these advantages over full-size bus services, poor safety performances, conflicts among van operators and between van and bus operators, and frequent passenger complaints led to the government’s regulation of passenger van services, which has evolved over the past decades. The formalization of vans as public service vehicles began in the late 1990s, which required van operators compliance to the regulations set forth by the Land Transport Act 1979. What prompted the waves of tightening of regulations is often deadly and high-profile accidents that were widely covered in the news media. The emphasis of regulations is therefore on safety standards, including public service vehicle (PSV) operator’s licensing, PSV vehicle standards and safety equipment inspection, and PSV driver’s training and licensing, while the management of passenger van business, including personnel management, financing, and day-to-day operation, is largely left to private operator’s own responsibility. Yet, the enforcement of these regulations is strict at the beginning, but usually becomes lax over time, until a new deadly accident prompting another round of stricter enforcement and tightening of regulations.

In this paper, I chronicle the evolution of passenger vans services regulations in Thailand, and assess the effectiveness of these regulations using the propositions developed by Goodfellow (2016). The five propositions for the condition of state effectiveness include 1) the state’s institutional and bureaucratic capacity, 2) the state’s independence from the groups that they regulate, 3) the state’s infrastructural power, 4) the state’s motivational credibility, and 5) the state’s sources of legitimacy. Using empirical data from various sources, such as government reports, official accident statistics, participatory observation, and interviews of stakeholders, I examine each proposition in the context of passenger van service regulations in Thailand, to analyze why the government has succeeded in certain aspects of the regulations and failed in others. These lessons from the efforts to regulate passenger vans as public transport services in Thailand can be useful for other developing countries where the government is deciding what to do with the ever expanding informal transport sector.

Saksith Chalermpong is Associate Professor in Civil Engineering at Chulalongkorn University, where he teaches transportation engineering and planning. His research interests include informal transportation, land use and transportation, and equality issues. He has published extensively in the field of transportation, and has provided consulting services for several government agencies in Thailand, including Department of Land Transport, Office of Transport Planning and Policy, and Bangkok Mass Transit Authority. Saksith received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Chulalongkorn University, his master’s degree from MIT, and his doctoral degree from UC Irvine, both in the field of transportation.