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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 17:02 GMT
Thai surfers dodge traffic jams

bangkok skyline Big traffic problems in Bangkok


By Geraldine Carroll in Bangkok

Jaraf Tosomphab is stuck in traffic again.

Jaraf, a 34-year old Thai businessman weaves his way through 20km of Bangkok's notorious traffic every day.

His Toyota inches along Sukhumvit Road, a district adored for shopping but despised for the stench of exhaust fumes.

Jaraf is one of millions of motorists in the Thai capital who share this daily ritual of road congestion, in which a two-mile journey downtown can take close to two hours at the peak of rush hour.

But thousands of frustrated motorists are now using the internet to solve their traffic headaches.

Government webmasters at the Office of the Commission for the Management of Land Traffic have created a website to allow motorists to monitor traffic in Bangkok.



Police will be able to see the entire road network so they can move cars from heavily congested areas to lightly congested areas
Padet Praditphet

Padet Praditphet, website manager at the Commission's Traffic and Transport Information Development Centre, says the website will benefit drivers and traffic police.

"The system was set up to give information for people to travel. And police will be able to see the entire road network so they can move cars from heavily congested areas to lightly congested areas."

Thailand is a country of car lovers and almost eight million vehicles clog the streets daily, coating the environment in black exhaust fumes.

The traffic problem is exacerbated by an archaic traffic management system in which traffic police manually operate traffic lights based on what they can see on the roads and with little coordination on a city-wide scale.

The website offers the latest news about road accidents and fires supplied by the traffic police and is updated by website compilers.


exhaust Parts of Bangkok are plagued by exhaust fumes

When the site is finished in the coming months, road maps will indicate the severity of traffic congestion with a simple colour scheme.

Red indicates heavy traffic, yellow means light traffic and green indicates flowing lanes.

"It's brand new for Thailand and very relevant but looking on the web using a search engine, there are some cities with some kind of traffic information, but it's not a standard feature. Los Angeles and some US cities have it but they are not necessarily interactive or real time," says Tony Waltham, IT expert and computer editor of the Bangkok Post newspaper.

Computer penetration in Thailand, a developing country, is very low with generous estimates counting one million computer users, which is less than one per cent of the population.



It's a good idea but I don't think it will be useful to the general public because most of them don't have a computer
Janthana Luengtragool

Compared to Singapore or the United States where computer penetration is more than 50%, it is questionable whether the new website is a practical solution to the huge traffic problem in the Thai capital.

Janthana Luengtragool echoes the sentiments of many Thai motorists who say monitoring traffic on the internet is a good idea, but searching the web for solutions is still foreign to most Thais.

"I've seen the new website. It's a good idea but I don't think it will be useful to the general public because most of them don't have a personal computer.

"I think even when it shows the road maps, it will not be perfect because on the internet there is limited space."

But IT experts insist that over time, Thais will realise the value of the internet.


Traffic jam buster site
4200 hits since opening 2 months ago
Site to be linked to television and radio
Information fed to web maps

"The technology can be applied everywhere and it is as relevant here as it would be in the West, it's just the level of access is not as high as it is in other countries.

"Therefore perhaps the perception is that it wouldn't be of interest, but once people have the access, they would find it just as compelling, just as interesting to check these things," says Tony Waltham.

More than 4200 hits have been recorded since the site opened two weeks ago. The site will soon include links to local television and radio for taxi and truck drivers. Bangkok's Area Traffic Control System will feed information automatically to the maps.

Problem endures

Experts say Thailand's new multimedia approach to traffic management will help bring Thai motorists into the internet age, but insist the archaic methods of the traffic police must also be improved.

"Applying technology to the traffic problem is a very interesting one and while it would be very interesting to have the real time information at our fingertips so to speak, the other side that should be looked at is the computerisation of the traffic through traffic lights and management which has been addressed over the years," says Tony Waltham.

"More than 20 years ago, there were traffic engineers looking into this, but I understand that it never really has gotten off the ground and that would be a big step forward.

"Currently the police at most intersections manually work the traffic lights and that's sort of based on what they see and the flow.

"But it's never coordinated and if that were coordinated on a city-wide scale, I think it would improve things a lot."

Internet penetration in Thailand will undoubtedly increase as more people gain access to home computers.

But in a country where owning a car is a symbol of luxury and status, it is unlikely Bangkok's traffic problem will disappear any time soon.

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