The Thai government’s move to phase out taxi vans for safety reasons and replace them with mini-buses advanced a step further this week.
Vans that have been operating for more than 10 years were ordered off the road from Monday.
Commuters had mixed feelings about the move, according to a report in the Bangkok Post. While some agreed that safety was a concern with older vans, many were inconvenienced by the change.
Mr Peraphon Thawornsupacharoen, deputy permanent secretary at the Department of Land Transport, agreed that citizens might have to wait longer for vans but said the government had added 65 buses on six routes to replace the taxi vans that had to stop operating.
More than 950 vans have had to stop operating in and around Bangkok and the Thai capital is set to get mini-buses next year.
Van operators have been told they must follow the department’s rules and ordered to use new vans within 180 days or be replaced.
One van user, Mrs Rapinnipha Chaiprasit, said she had been using taxi vans to travel from Minburi to Victory Monument and back in the morning and evening for a long time because it only took 30 to 50 minutes depending on traffic.
But on Monday, she had to wait 30 minutes for a van. She said she did not want the government to add more buses, saying they were too big and slow in rush hours when many people travel to and from home.
Operators of taxi vans who break the law face fines from 20,000 to 100,000-baht or up to five years in jail.
Some van drivers said they planned to negotiate with courts in a bid to keep operating until they are ordered off the road.
The Prayut Chan-ocha government moved to get older vans off the road following a series of deadly van crashes.
In some cases, passengers were burnt to death while trapped inside vans after accidents. There have been numerous accidents and cases when drivers of taxi vans have been accused of reckless driving, as well as complaints that it can be difficult for passengers to escape if a van has a crash and the gas tank catches on fire.
Thailand has the second highest road fatality rate in the world at 36 per 100,000, according to the World Health Organization, which said over 24,000 people die on Thai roads every year – or 66 every day. Most victims are motorcyclists (48 a day).
The WHO estimated that Thailand loses 3 to 5% of its GDP due to road traffic crashes.