Have you noticed the ugly green smoke spewing buses have largely disappeared from the Bangkok landscape?  They’ve been replaced by these new natural gas powered models which are bigger and more comfortable.  You’ll find them in two main colors, yellow and orange.  Orange as you can see has open windows and now air conditioning, yellow buses have fixed closed windows and nice cool air conditioning.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L   F5.6 1/125  48mm  ISO 400

 

Have you noticed the ugly green smoke spewing buses have largely disappeared from the Bangkok landscape?  They’ve been replaced by these new natural gas powered models which are bigger and more comfortable.  You’ll find them in two main colors, yellow and orange.  Orange as you can see has open windows and now air conditioning, yellow buses have fixed closed windows and nice cool air conditioning.

My wife often rides Bus 11 to her place of employment and knows the drivers and conductors so I asked her help in finding out some details.

First, Bus 11 runs from where Sukhumvit meets Patthakarin, to Pratunam up above Pantip Plaza.  I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed to say I’ve never ridden Bus 11, but I haven’t.  I did however go aboard the bus you see in the picture above and its clean with closely spaced plastic seating like you’d see in the airport waiting areas.

What really interested me where the people operating the buses.  I wanted to know where they lived, how much they made, who owned the buses, and if the buses were private or publically owned.   These buses are not the BTMA (Bangkok Mass Transit Authority) larger buses, these are much smaller.  It was interesting to find out they start at just over baht 1m, and one with A/C will set you back less than a new Toyota Fortuner!  Not nearly as expensive as you’d think!

Don’t think of these buses are you would your normal public bus, think of them more as one step up from a Song Thaew or Baht Bus.  They’re privately owned and then rented out to the drivers and operators.

 

The above panoramic shows the ‘housing complex’ where the drivers and conductors and the other support personal who run these buses live.  The buses are rented to a licensed driver who then pays for his own fuel and upkeep.  How much they make is strictly dependent on many fares the conductor collects from the riders.  The fare?  From 1 to roughly 15 baht depending on how far you’re going.  The conductor keeps track of who gets on/off the bus and where, and collects the necessary fare.  Most riders take the same routes every day and know the fare having it read in exact change

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  Sweep Panoramic Mode

 

The above panoramic shows the ‘housing complex’ where the drivers and conductors and the other support personal who run these buses live.  The buses are rented to a licensed driver who then pays for his own fuel and upkeep.  How much they make is strictly dependent on many fares the conductor collects from the riders.  The fare?  From 1 to roughly 15 baht depending on how far you’re going.  The conductor keeps track of who gets on/off the bus and where, and collects the necessary fare.  Most riders take the same routes every day and know the fare having it read in exact change.  

 

I can’t help it, one of the first things I noticed were the satellite dishes mounted on the roofs and glimpses of flat panel televisions in the shacks.  I wasn’t invited inside, but from what I saw the interiors were mostly a place to hold their clothes, a floor to sleep on, and a television and often a computer here and there.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L   F5.6 1/125  70mm  ISO 400

 

I can’t help it, one of the first things I noticed were the satellite dishes mounted on the roofs and glimpses of flat panel televisions in the shacks.  I wasn’t invited inside, but from what I saw the interiors were mostly a place to hold their clothes, a floor to sleep on, and a television and often a computer here and there.

 

This corner lot was vacant and their tin village was set up at the very start of the bus 11 route.  They don’t pay rent and told me if they did they’d quickly move to a new location.  Buses are parked in the street directly in front of this village when not in use.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS   F5.6 1/200  78mm  ISO 400

 

This corner lot was vacant and their tin village was set up at the very start of the bus 11 route.  They don’t pay rent and told me if they did they’d quickly move to a new location.  Buses are parked in the street directly in front of this village when not in use.

 

When the camera came out most of the residents went inside.  More and more Thai people hesitate to have their picture taken.  I’ve noticed this trend increasing with our current political demonstrations.  However, the family above just looked on as we asked questions, silently appraising us in turn.  Several who knew my wife smiled in recognition.  I’d guess for the years she’s been riding this bus they had no idea she was married to a farang.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS   F5.6 1/125  75mm  ISO 400

 

When the camera came out most of the residents went inside.  More and more Thai people hesitate to have their picture taken.  I’ve noticed this trend increasing with our current political demonstrations.  However, the family above just looked on as we asked questions, silently appraising us in turn.  Several who knew my wife smiled in recognition.  I’d guess for the years she’s been riding this bus they had no idea she was married to a farang. 

 

Clothes and dishes are washed in buckets, electricity is ‘hijacked’ from the local power lines which strikes me as very dangerous, if not a cheap way of getting electricity.  The clothes are then hung over makeshift wooden or PVC braces with every car going by throwing up more fine dust which I’m sure must coat the freshly washed clothes.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS   F5.6 1/100  70mm  ISO 400

 

Clothes and dishes are washed in buckets, electricity is ‘hijacked’ from the local power lines which strikes me as very dangerous, if not a cheap way of getting electricity.  The clothes are then hung over makeshift wooden or PVC braces with every car going by throwing up more fine dust which I’m sure must coat the freshly washed clothes.

 

This is a conductor on her way home with groceries.  She stopped in her tracks when she noticed us there with a big camera and waited until we left before going inside.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS   F5.6 1/60  200mm  ISO 400

 

This is a conductor on her way home with groceries.  She stopped in her tracks when she noticed us there with a big camera and waited until we left before going inside.

 

If you look to the left in this image you’ll notice a small store set up where the “bus people” can buy much of what they need on a daily basis.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS  F5.6 1/100  85mm  ISO 400

 

If you look to the left in this image you’ll notice a small store set up where the “bus people” can buy much of what they need on a daily basis. 

 

How much do they earn?  It varies by how many people ride the bus.  Drivers can make in excess of baht 10,000 monthly and conductor 4000-5000 baht.  The drivers must be licensed, but I’m told the licensed drivers often let unlicensed men drive the bus earning very little.  With copies of their licenses posted, an unscrupulous licensed driver can sit back in the tin village watching satellite television while his poor oppressed drivers bring in his income.   This sounds familiar for some reason.

Canon 5d Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS  F5.6 1/200  90mm  ISO 400

 

How much do they earn?  It varies by how many people ride the bus.  Drivers can make in excess of baht 10,000 monthly and conductor 4000-5000 baht.  The drivers must be licensed, but I’m told the licensed drivers often let unlicensed men drive the bus earning very little.  With copies of their licenses posted, an unscrupulous licensed driver can sit back in the tin village watching satellite television while his poor oppressed drivers bring in his income.   This sounds familiar for some reason.

As the buses stop running in the early evening when most are home from work, the tin village takes on a quiet glow as light from televisions and computers escapes though the crack of whatever they’re  using for a door.

An existence such as this raises all kinds of social questions such as living conditions, where the children attend school, health concerns, medical care, and fair play with the bus owners.  The workers rotate in from villages in Issan to earn some money before returning back to their regular lives.  This is just one small group of people working in Bangkok under the same conditions.  If these people weren’t here to operate the buses at such a low cost, would the bus owners find it profitable to still operate the buses?  And would the people who ride them still be able to afford the fares?

 Transportation costs are a major factor in the employment of any Thai living in Bangkok.  My wife recently started a new position that takes her clear across town.  Taxi fare would take a full 70% of her wages.  A bus and sky train route 50%.  She was finally happy to find a bus route for 30%.  Significant to say the least.  About what an average family in the west pays to operate an automobile?