December 23, 2011 00:00
By Achara Deboonme
Bangkok Metro's newly appointed managing director, Chaiwat Utaiwan, has set his sights on raising commercial revenue and restructuring the subway operator's finances.
After taking the role in October while floods hit Bangkok and threatened to derail the MRT subway, he said his plans would be unveiled next year after they are presented to the board of directors.
In general, he plans to raise commercial revenue from nearly nil to 20 per cent of the total within three years, mainly by turning subway stations into commercial venues. The company now earns some commercial revenue from advertising. Of the 18 stations, 11 show potential to attract businesses. Of those, four have offered commercial space.
After the floods reassured Bangkokians of the safety and reliability of the subway, he also sees a good chance to raise ridership by 1015 per cent. At present, ridership is about 240,000 on weekdays. He is devising plans to raise the weekend ridership, potentially by adding commercial areas. With those in place, passengers would not enter the stations just for the purpose of commuting, and this could draw higher traffic. Commuter behaviour is being closely studied.
The number of riders met targets in the first nine months, but was 25 per cent below target in November before picking up again this month.
“My main mission is to insert the MRT into Bangkokians’ DNA ... Under the ground is normally hell, but we’re turning it into heaven,” he said at his introductory event on Wednesday.
Next year, the organisational structure will be changed to support the new corporate strategies of Bangkok Metro (BCML).
Chaiwat is hopeful that the firm will win the right to operate the Purple Line mass-transit route. He expects the results of the bid will be announced soon, so that the company can prepare for the new extension.
Under the construction contract, the Purple Line must be completed within 40 months after signing. He said it would help if the company knew two years in advance whether it would win the operating contract, as he has to prepare the workforce. The route would increase the subway length by three times. Employing about 1,000 staff now, BMCL may not need to triple the workforce, he said.
Spending most of his time in the past two months dealing with the floods, Chaiwat – former president of Siam City Bank – has also focused on the company’s finances. BMCL is now shouldering accumulated losses of about Bt13 billion.
“Certainly, if we can win investor confidence on strong performance, the windows for fundraising will be open. Yet it will take some time to adjust the accumulated losses.”
To deal with the finances, the company is pondering options to reduce the cost of borrowing, he said. Depreciation policies could also be adjusted.