One of the most frequent complaints and criticisms that we hear about Pattaya is the congestion on the roads, or more to the point, the congestion caused by tour coaches. While no one doubts that these tourists, predominantly in this case Chinese, are welcome, the coaches are far less desirable even going as far as putting off other tourists. It is a problem that has been getting progressively worse and one that is continuing without being sufficiently addressed.
Which areas are the worst affected?
It is tough to identify a particular area as it seems that almost all downtown areas in both Pattaya and Jomtien have a problem. Pattaya Beach Road is particularly problematic in the morning time with coach parties taking their groups over to Koh Larn by speedboat with the same problem happening in the afternoon when they return.
Around the main shopping malls, Central Festival and Terminal 21 it is also bad during the daytime and Naklua becomes almost impassable in the late evening. All areas seem to be affected by coaches in the mornings when they visit hotels but leave their engines running. Not only does this create a problem with noise and congestion, but it also generates a great deal of pollution.
Identifying the problem is straightforward
Everyone from tourists to City Hall to the tour groups themselves knows what the problem is. It is obviously the number of coaches on the roads at the same time in already busy areas. The problem is how you overcome these problems. Numerous solutions have been suggested in recent years, many of which border on ludicrous while others would take years to implement, require massive amounts of investment and will cause disruption themselves while being constructed.
As you can see, solving the problem is far from straightforward, especially without creating further problems.
Short to medium term objectives
The best solution may be to try and break the problem down and address it piece by piece. The most pressing issue would be the number of coaches that are on main roads at peak times, including weekends. Perhaps coaches could be allocated slots when then can enter the city including times when they must leave. It would mean that there would be some control of the number of buses in the city at any one time. Obviously, this would need to be effectively policed and “Thai time” may make it unworkable.
An additional change could be to alter where some of the speedboats depart from, rather than the majority leaving from Beach Road. There are piers in Naklua as well as Na Jomtien and obviously Bali Hai. In the medium term, perhaps another pier could be built in a relatively quiet location? It would be a significant expense and one that would take time to construct as we witnessed with the Bali Hai improvements, but it could relieve the problem.
Any medium to long term solution will need serious investment and state-of-the-art infrastructure. The levels of investment required almost certainly couldn’t be decided at City Hall and would need central government approval. The problem would also need to be adequately addressed, unlike several attempts to improve Pattaya Beach and other areas of the city. “Jobs for the boys” is not an option so it might be wise to seek foreign investment and assistance. It isn’t an attempt to criticise the Thais; it is just being practical when such huge sums would be involved.
The problem is not a new problem, it is something that many other cities around the world have experienced, and it will inevitably need various parties to come to the table and discuss proposals. Sadly, some parties have their own vested interests that need to be left at the door when the discussions begin.
Mass Transit Options
Long term, and something that has been proposed on numerous occasions, it would seem wise to install some form of mass transit system similar to the Skytrain (BTS) in Bangkok or tram systems that are used in many European cities. The problem is with these systems is that coaches would still be required to take passengers to the system so their starting points would need to be out of the city, thus adding a significant cost to an infrastructure project which would already be expensive.
The most obvious places for these terminuses would be at northern and southern points on Sukhumvit Road, perhaps one to the north of Naklua near the Cholchan and one in Na Jomtien. Here there are vast expanses of land that could be used for coach parks. It is something that would relieve much of the problem but not eradicate it completely. It would mean that there was still an essential role for baht buses and would hopefully go some way to easing the pollution in the city, something that is an ever-increasing problem.
A need for short term and long term solutions
What is apparent is that there is a need for both long term and short term solutions. Outright bans of coaches would alienate tourists and many businesses and slots, as mentioned, may need a shift in culture. Whatever decisions are made need to be thoroughly thought through and look at from a variety of viewpoints. Rash decisions were made regarding the infrastructure and road network for Terminal 21, which only exasperated an already worsening problem. It is something that lessons must be learned to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
Mass transit units seem to be the only viable long-term solution both in terms of easing congestions, the primary purpose, and reducing pollution. How long these will take to be agreed upon, never mind implemented is a question that we would like to be answered, but as we have tried to show, it isn’t quite as straightforward as what it may seem. All suggestions are fraught with problems, so perhaps if you have some new and innovative ideas, you could put it forward to City Hall to make a better place for us all the live and work.