The rail transit system of Bangkok is operated by three separate companies, and each company issues tickets that are only valid for their own line.
I’ve previously covered the station transfer mess of Bangkok’s rail transit. This article covers the ticketing mess of Bangkok’s rail transit.
The ticketing mess
The mass transit system of Bangkok includes the Skytrain (BTS), the metro system (MRT), and commuter rail and airport line operated by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT). The BTS, MRT, and SRT are separate entities, and each has its own ticketing system that can’t be used on other lines.
[Ticket machines at Thong Lor BTS (no MRT or SRT tickets here).]
To illustrate the absurdity of this system I took a ride from Thong Lor to Don Muang, which involved riding on the three different company lines. This is what my trip looked like:
BTS Sukhumvit Line: Thong Lor – Asoke (transfer from BTS to MRT Sukhumvit)
MRT Blue Line: Sukhumvit to Bang Sue (transfer from MRT to SRT Dark Red Line)
SRT Dark Red Line: Bang Sue to Don Muang
Here are the three tickets that I needed to take this journey.
[Three different tickets to travel on three different transit lines in Bangkok.]
If you were to take such a journey in, say London or Tokyo, you would be able to do so on one ticket without having to exit the station.
I picked this trip example to show what it’s like to go from the tourist area along Sukhumvit Road to Don Muang International Airport. I’m familiar when the transit system in Bangkok, but I wanted to see what a tourist arriving at Don Muang for the first time would experience.
For a start, there is no official unified transit map, so hopefully this new tourist has researched before arriving. After working out the route, the newly-arrived tourist realises that they need to buy three separate tickets to make this journey work.
[The unofficial unified Bangkok metro map via Wikimedia. Not shown at any stations.]
In all of my travels around the world, I have never had to buy three separate train tickets to get from the airport to my hotel.
This is inconvenient for tourists and residents alike, but the bigger problem is that this becomes expensive for commuters in the outer suburbs and surrounding provinces.
The uncapped pricing system is unfair
One of the problems of this disjointed system is that it is not possible to cap daily spending like other systems around the world. If a daily commuter is using the three systems to get to work every day, they have to pay three times each way. A fairer transport system would cap the daily spending across all systems.
Ticket prices can’t be capped until there is a unified ticketing system that keeps track of every journey. Considering that Bangkok should be doing everything in its power to move commuters from the roads to transit, then this needs to be a high priority.
A report by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) in 2019 said that the average ticket price in Thailand is 20% higher than in Singapore. A capped daily spend would ensure that transit costs are proportionally aligned with the average wage in Thailand.
The future unified ticketing system
Bangkok is supposed be getting a unified ticketing system called the Mangmoom Card. This has been planned since 2016, but it has not been launched yet. The website (http://www.mangmoom.co.th) doesn’t work either.
What is frustrating about this delay is that since the Mangmoom Card was first proposed for the BTS and MRT lines, the SRT has since gone and built the Red Commuter lines, which opened in 2021. It would have been ideal to have launched these new lines to be compatible with a unified ticketing system.
Instead, the Red Commuter lines use their own plastic token system. When it comes time to unify the three systems, the SRT will need to change the ticketing system.
[Why is a train system built in 2021 still using tokens.]
I have already written about how the SRT is losing so much money through decisions such as building a dual gauge rail system. Setting up a ticketing system that will eventually have to be changed is another way to lose lots of money.
Is it too late for a one card system?
While Bangkokians have been waiting for the Mangmoom Card, the BTS has developed their own stored value card. The Rabbit Card is used for travel on the BTS, and it can be used at some stores outside the Skytrain system. I use it at the MBK Food Court and at Casa Lapin Cafe (to name two examples). This card has become so useful that it would be hard to convince the BTS to replace Rabbit with Mangmoom.
[Rabbitpay at a cafe in Bangkok.]
Meanwhile, the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (operator of the MRT) announced at the end of 2021 that they will accept payments made by credit and debit cards. This can be used on the MRT and SRT Commuter lines. This is a system implemented by other metro services around the world, where you can just tap your credit card at the gate.
While this is a welcome improvement, it is not for every line and it doesn’t include a daily cap across all systems.
For the answer to ticketing, look to Tokyo
[Buying a ticket at Shibuya Station for any type of train in Tokyo.]
The Mangmoom Card has been delayed for so long that the Rabbit Card has stolen a march on what the Mangmoom Card could have been. Bangkok could end up with a system where there are competing card systems.
Fortunately, there is another system that shows that this can be done. The fantastic Tokyo rapid transit system has two competing cards: Pasmo and Suica. Both are almost completely identical in features, so it doesn’t matter which one you use.
Bangkok might be in the same situation with the Rabbit and Mangmoom cards (if the MRT allows Rabbit to be used on its system).
A system with multiple operators can function with a unified ticket
The Tokyo system is a good model for Bangkok to emulate, as it has two main metro operators and seven private railways. The system is so well integrated that the average commuter doesn’t have to stop and think about which operator they are on.
Another recent example is in London. The Elizabeth Line is operated by Hong Kong’s MTR, but it has the same standardised signage as the rest of Transport for London and ticketing is with the Oyster card.
The main problem for Bangkok is that they should have established guidelines before contracts with private companies were awarded. It’s going to be hard work for Bangkok to fix the interchange stations and unify the ticket system. I will have a final post about that soon.
Flagfall issue dogs train network – [26/09/21]
“Bangkok’s rail network is becoming too expensive for its own residents, and part of the problem is the multiple flagfall that a commuter has to pay to complete a journey, as each concession-holder has the ability to set its own fares. While this isn’t a problem for inner city residents, most commuter travel routes aren’t confined to a single line.”
Why Skytrain fare hike may end up wrecking Bangkok’s mass-transit success story – [07/02/21]
“Bangkok commuters are crossing their fingers and hoping that the Central Administrative Court will stop the maximum BTS Skytrain fare being raised from Bt65 to Bt104 on February 16.”
Tickets to ride too expensive – [31/05/19]
This week, the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) issued a call for rail authorities to make train fares more affordable, saying that the average ticket price in Thailand is 20% higher than that in Singapore. Given that cost of living and the minimum wage in Singapore are much higher than Thailand’s, the higher fares for Bangkok commuters simply don’t add up.
News about ticketing for Bangkok’s urban rail transit system is archived here.
Transport authorities set to push for one ticket for all public transport in Bangkok – [10/09/22]
“In a bid to make public transport more convenient for commuters, the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP) is set to propose the creation of joint tickets.”
Planned 59-baht maximum fare on BTS extensions opposed – [29/06/22]
“Thailand’s Consumer Council (TCC), a non-profit consumer protection network, has voiced its strong objection to the planned 59-baht maximum train fare for the two extended routes of the BTS sky train system, or Green Line, claiming that the maximum fare should not exceed 44 baht.”
New fare system ready soon – [25/12/21]
“The system is a co-development of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand and Krungthai Bank. It will involve a card based on the Europay, Mastercard and Visa (EMV) standard.”
Train ticketing overhaul in motion – [13/02/21]
“The Transport Ministry is aiming to speed up the implementation of a common ticketing system for Bangkok’s electric trains in a bid to reduce fares by 30%.”