If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine a Bangkok with far fewer cars on the street, you might have trouble visualising the scene. Those of us who live in the capital understand that traffic jams are an unavoidable part of life.
Last year, Bangkok commuters spent an average of 64 hours in traffic, according to the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard. The same report ranked Bangkok the 12th-most congested city in the world. Traffic snarls cost the Thai economy around Bt11 billion per year, according to Kasikorn Research Centre.
There are over one billion cars in the world. But as we see in Bangkok, the problem isn’t merely the amount but rather how cars are used individually. Next time you stop at Asok intersection, take a look at the cars around you. Most will likely contain just one person – the driver.
Traffic congestion also means pollution. Twenty-two per cent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions comes from cars.
The majority of cars spend 95 per cent of their time in parking lots. Parking lots take up to one fifth of a typical city’s space. And in Bangkok, cars parked randomly sometimes take up one or two lanes of a busy street, making it even harder for two-way traffic.
Imagine the additional green space Bangkok could have if we didn’t need as many parking lots.
Or imagine your typical crowded
soi minus the parked cars, leaving roads open and cutting our commute times.
Uber launched in Thailand in 2014. Since then, it has been part of a growing conversation about ridesharing and its role in providing affordable, reliable alternatives to individual car ownership.
In the past few years, there has been a tremendous increase in the popularity of ridesharing here and around the world. On a global scale, seven years after Uber’s launch in San Francisco, the ridesharing app has racked up over 5 billion trips in over 600 cities and 77 countries.
It’s changing the way people move around the city. In Bangkok, ridesharing complements other existing options of public transportation. For instance, 20 per cent of Uber rides start or end near a mass transit system.
And ridesharing can make transportation even more affordable. UberPOOL allows a driver to pick up people going the same direction at the same time in order to combine what would be separate trips into one single ride.
After seven months of operations in 2016, uberPOOL had cut 502 million kilometres of driving distance, saving about 23 million litres of fuel. Imagine what this could do for a city like Bangkok.
Research in the United States shows that attitudes to individual car ownership are changing due to the accessibility of affordable and reliable alternatives. Morgan Stanley projects that by 2030, ridesharing will contribute to 25 per cent of the total distance driven globally.
Ridesharing also enables drivers to earn extra money at the push of a button, turning one of their biggest expenses – a car – into an economic asset. In Thailand, driver partners come from various jobs and backgrounds including office employees who drive after work, and people between jobs.
Bangkok is known around the world as a top destination to visit, but rarely cited as a liveable city. By embracing shared modes of transportation using existing resources, that could change.
If we take away Bangkok’s traffic and daily commute, we could gain back time with our family and loved ones. If we can embrace all the possibilities that technology brings, our dreams of a better city are more likely to come true. A city with more green space rather than parking lots, a city where there is freedom of movement because there is a choice and access to affordable and reliable transportation.
Cutting the number of cars on Bangkok streets might seem like an impossible task, attempted many times but always without success. But technology has given us a fresh opportunity. By seizing it we might just reclaim our city, our lifestyle and our daily commute from the snarled up streets we experience today.
Siripa Jungsawat is general manager of Uber Thailand. This column was written to mark World Car-Free Day, which falls today.