While observing an English class at Maryvit, their teacher, Master Nikorn, led a discussion designed to help develop their use of the second conditional in order to express wishful thinking. The prompt was, “If you were the mayor of Pattaya, what would you change?”
It’s an interesting question for any city, but particularly for a Thai city, and especially for Pattaya. Without doing any real journalism, all I can say is that the current mayor seems to be shrouded in either corruption or incompetence, or perhaps a mixture of both. But again, I have no real evidence to back that up other than whispers and atmosphere. But Master Nikorn’s discussion question is one that I daily contemplate as I encounter different problems and annoyances around my new home city. These are just a few of the suggestions I have for the city of Pattaya.
- Develop some mass transit.
To help the students brainstorm ideas with their partners, Master Nikorn put up several issues on the board, and asked them if each was an issue that affected Pattaya. “Does Pattaya have a problem with pollution?”
“Yes!” they said in unison. They weren’t wrong. When I walk outside my apartment, I am so badly bombarded with irritants that I immediately start sneezing.
He checked “pollution.” Then he asked, “Does Pattaya have a problem with traffic?”
“Yes!” they replied, exasperated at Pattaya’s famously atrocious traffic situation.
He checked “traffic” as well. “Does Pattaya have a problem with public transportation?”
They looked at each other. Some shrugged; others tentatively shook their heads “no.” Master Nikorn called on students to dig up opinions. The students all seemed to agree that between motorbike taxis and songthaews, the city of Pattaya offered enough transportation options. And don’t forget walking, one student added. Master Nikorn didn’t argue, didn’t push, and seemed to be pleased with their answers. “There are many ways to get around, so it’s not really a problem,” he said.
Internally, I facepalmed. And as an observer, I couldn’t intervene. Even these students’ teacher couldn’t draw a connection between public transportation deficiencies and problems with traffic and pollution.
Motorbike taxis carry one, maybe two, passengers—hardly enough to reduce the average commuter’s carbon footprint. And while they can filter through traffic with greater ease than a coach bus, there are so many of them that they create impenetrable clusters weaving between cars and raising the risk of accident.
Songthaews—or “baht buses”—are pickup trucks with two benches in the bed of the truck. (In fact, songthaew means basically “two benches.”) While there are many of them, they’re highly inconsistent and unreliable, which I’ll get into a little later. They’re more a tourist attraction than feasible mass transit. And they’re less a solution and more the cause of traffic problems with the way they drive, anyway.
So, Pattaya, do you want to reduce traffic and pollution? Invest in buses and light rails. You won’t, I know, because the motorbike taxi association has too much sway. And with a Thai mafia presence in that sector of business, there’s even more pressure to maintain the status quo. But if you want your city to improve and progress, especially with the influx of people you hope all those new condominium developments will bring in, you need to rein in the absolute cluster-fuck that is traffic, as well as the poison that is your air.
- Orgnanize your Songthaews
Sure, if I want to get from one end of a major thoroughfare—such as Beach Road, Second Road, and Sukhumvit Road—they’re fairly consistent and predictable. But outside of maybe 7 of the most trafficked routes, songtaews are a waste of time.
Why is this a problem? Even in “East Bay,” the region east of the San Francisco Bay, where AC Transit has a regular bus schedule and well-planned routes, planning to get somewhere important on time is a pain in the ass and a possible crap-shoot. But if you don’t have a car, then a little careful planning can make great use of the AC Transit. My point is, buses aren’t inherently beacons of reliability. But if you add to this inherent unreliability drivers that don’t have schedules, won’t stick to predictable routes, and often neglect to even stop for passengers on their route, then you will have a transportation system that resembles songthaews. It’s a system that no personal, methodical planning can capitalize on, and that no one who needs to be anywhere at a particular time can rely on. Songthaews are so useless, there are usually only two types of people riding them: tourists or retired expats with lots of time to kill, and poor Thai locals who have no other choice.
Songthaew drivers once had routes with stickers or numbers indicating their route. However, as any drive up second road during peak hours will indicate, this has been abandoned. Now drivers go where the most passengers will be. And since most tourist’s route back to their hotel from Walking Street is north on Second Road, there are usually about 900 songthaews there.
Without knowing exactly why, I can only assume this is because the drivers are like private business owners. So they only make as much as their vehicle earns. Thus, they go where the most traffic is to increase their potential revenue. If this is true, maybe it’s time to incorporate them, so that they all get paid the same, no matter what route they take. And to make it even fairer, they can rotate between busy and not-so-busy routes. But alas, that’s asking too much organization and regulation of Pattaya, isn’t it? Never mind. Mai Bpen-rai.
- Paint lane lines on Second Road
While we’re on the topic of Second-Road, paint some goddamned lines, already! Not that it generally matters—Thai drivers rarely seem to stay strictly in their lanes. But at least they do it about 60% of the time, which is enough to solve about 60% of the problem with that road. Drivers wander aimlessly, uncertain of where they’re supposed to be, dodging thousands of sonthaews and pedestrians, and hoping they won’t accidently hit a motorbike. Instead of a torrent of inchoate traffic zigzagging down up the road, by painting some lines on the road you might end up with a clean, steady stream of order.
- Leave out more trashcans (that goes for all of Thailand)
Ever wonder why your country is so badly littered with plastic bags, empty containers and cups, straw and food wrappers, and other bits of trash? Because people are tired of carrying their trash around. So many times I’ve carried empty bottles and food cartons for nearly a kilometer, then realize the only thing preventing me from tossing it to the side of the road is my well-ingrained stewardship of the environment. I nearly scream, “Are there no trash cans in this country?”
I know. This is opening a Pandora’s box. If you put out more trash cans, that’s more work for someone to do. And since that someone is likely underpaid and lazy, they’ll probably not change the bins as often as they should. So your proliferated trash cans will be overflowing with garbage, adding a notable unsightliness to your country. But you gotta ask yourself, is that any more unsightly than visiting the beach or a temple and seeing trash strewn around carelessly on the ground? Think about it…
- Learn the physics of sound
Speaking of pollution, there’s another kind that’s a problem in this city: noise pollution. For example, if five different businesses or vendors within a 200-meter radius all blast their sundry songs at the highest volume, I can hear none of them. Or more accurately, I can hear all of them…at once. All I get is an awful blend of noise that annoys more than attracts.
Add to this the trucks with advertisement boards and blaring radio ads, drivers thumping their god-awful EDM, emergency vehicle sirens, and the foundation-shattering rumble of thousands of coach buses, and it’s wonder I ever sleep in this town.
I’ve learned to tolerate the noise about 70% of the time. But do you really think I care to shop at your appliance store, buy your CDs, eat your chicken, or visit your bar if your message is lost in the urban cacophony of a thousand songs? In fact, I’ve vowed to avoid some of these places merely on principle.
So Pattaya, if you can satisfy these five requests, your city will be just a little more tolerable to live in. Not that you’re doing anything wrong. The multitude of tourists that saunter into your city excited to have their slice of sex pie is surely evidence enough of your success to wave away any complaint.