Sat, May 20, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Choked by traffic, Bangkok revs up to challenge air pollution

By Thin Lei Win  /  BANGKOK, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Despite having the second-worst traffic congestion in the world after Mexico City, according to a global traffic index compiled by navigation company TomTom, Bangkok topped a 2015 list ranking popular tourist destinations on their air quality, from UK-based firm Airport Parking and Hotels.

It might not stay there for long.

“Since the 1990s, the number of automobiles is increasing, so you have more congestion and more sources of emission. That’s a big challenge,” said Bhichit Rattakul, who founded the Anti-Air Pollution and Environmental Protection Foundation a decade before being elected governor of Bangkok in 1996.

To combat this, the PCD has reached preliminary agreements to impose the Euro 5 standard, which further limits pollutants in fuel, by 2023 for oil refineries and by 2024 for vehicles in Thailand.

“The important thing is that the Thai government implements these policies with Thai industry,” said Teera Prasongchan, chair of the Thai Automotive Industry Association’s committee on technical issues and deputy general manager of Toyota Motor Thailand.

“That means we have to sit down and talk, and compromise with each other,” he added.

Thailand has been using the Euro 4 standard since 2012, while the latest standard is Euro 6.

The upgrade in six to seven years might seem a long way off, but Supat, who has retired after working on air pollution issues for almost three decades, but still advises the PCD, said it pays to be patient.

The important thing is to “have a fixed and endorsed timeline,” he said.

Bangkok is an example of what other Southeast Asian cities can do to improve air quality, said Glynda Bathan-Baterina, deputy executive director of the Manila-based non-governmental organization Clean Air Asia.

Still, these “tailpipe solutions” only tackle emissions on a per unit, per vehicle basis, she added.

“The real solution is looking at a mass transport system that can bring massive numbers of people in and out of the city while encouraging them to leave their vehicles at home,” she said.

Bangkok is planning 12 more rapid transit train lines, but they will not be ready until 2029.

Other low-emission solutions, such as electric or hybrid cars, are still a rarity in Thailand. Teera said car manufacturers there are adopting a wait-and-see approach due to concerns over infrastructure and energy supply.

In the meantime, politicians and city leaders need to enforce higher air quality standards to keep residents safe and healthy, Bhichit said.

“The public can avoid the bad places, but ultimately, that’s not the direction the city should be moving in,” he said.

During Bhichit’s time in office, air pollution was so bad he put up signs urging people to avoid Silom Road in downtown Bangkok in the afternoon and cracked down on vehicles whose emissions exceeded standards.

“People were not happy with me. They drove to my house and blew their horns every morning. The automobile industry also made a big noise,” he said. “But I did not listen much.”

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