Eight is a lucky number, the Chinese tell us, since in Mandarin and other dialects it’s a homonym for prosperity.
They might change their minds if they rode the No 8 bus in Bangkok. And, if they did, they’d probably suggest renumbering the buses to four, which sounds like their word for “death”.
The No 8 buses plying the route between Pak Klongtalad and Happy Land are so accident-prone that the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority has given the operator of the line “one last chance” to improve safety. Otherwise it will yank all the buses off the street, and there are more than 100 of them.
“One last chance” sounds like the Chinese word for “that’ll be the day”, but at least there’s some room for optimism. The passengers refer to their risky rides as “the bus from hell”, “telephone-booth slammers” and “the fast and the furious”, and to themselves as “ghost riders”.
The No 8 easily tops the list of the most dangerous bus lines in Bangkok in the BMTA’s 2015 operating report, based on commuter complaints accumulated over the previous 10 months. The transit authority knows what the problem is and it’s not about the wheels falling off. It all comes down to reckless driving.
Last June, a No 8 slammed into concrete pillar near the Ari Skytrain station when the driver lost control while engaged in a race with a rival bus at breakneck speed. Injury prevented the driver from honouring his contractual obligation to flee the scene before the cops showed up. One morning last week the menace turned truly tragic when a 60-year-old woman was killed in a bus mishap in Lat Phrao.
Even when there are no outright collisions, riding the No 8 can be like enduring an earthquake. The centrifugal motion of sudden swerves tosses passengers out their seats, knocking heads together. Commuters are routinely dropped off in the middle of the road and taken on mystery-tour detours that are anything but magical.
And the conductors are often surly and rude. Earlier this month a young woman posted a terrified selfie on Facebook taken aboard a No 8 between the Lat Phrao subway stop and Chatuchak Park. The young male conductor had sat next to her, ogling her thighs and bumping into her suggestively.
More than 10,000 passengers brave rides on the No 8 every day from eastern to western Bangkok and back. People attempting to defend the service might point out that these are 10-tonne vehicles, not suites at the Ritz-Carlton, so what can you expect?
Let’s reiterate what we expect, then. We expect to get off the bus in one piece.