Bangkok Public Transit Rider Experience

Ever keeping an eye out for things that Boston could do to improve its subway and public transit rider experience as a member of the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, several aspects of the Bangkok subway and skytrain system were of note to me. This growing system has several of the rider friendly features I have seen in other Asian public transit systems that the MBTA should consider adopting. This is a pretty nuts-and-bolts discussion of the system, so if you don't have a particular interest in public transit it might be a bit dry for you.

System Infrastructure

Bangkok features two loosely integrated train systems. The BTS Skytrain system, an elevated monorail, opened in 1999 while the MRT, an underground heavy rail line, opened in 2004. Both systems feature distance based fares and have completely separate ticketing system (although that will change in the future). The city also has one bus rapid transit line.

The station sign at Mo Chit, a stop on the BTS Skytrain. Note that the station has a number (N8). The interchange with MRT sign indicates a nearby MRT subway station.

Both rail systems have picked up ridership since opening and future extensions and lines are in construction or planned. BTS Skytrain stations can accommodate trains up to six cars long, but trains only have four cars. Originally the system ran with three car trains and purchased additional cars to extend to four car trains once demand increased. The ability to later expand to six allows for future growth to meet rising demand.

Stations are numbered, as are exits in stations, features that I am a big proponent of and have discussed their usefulness when looking at other cities.

The BTS Skytrain's clearly marked exit and nearby attractions signs in Thai and English make way finding easy for locals and tourists alike

The interchange station between BRT Skytrain lines features a cross platform interchange, a feature I first saw in Hong Kong that greatly speeds up transfers.

The Rabbit Card

As the Charlie Card is to Boston, the Rabbit Card is to Bangkok. Except the Rabbit Card does a lot more than the Charlie Card.

The stored value card of Bangkok's BTS Skytrain is the Rabbit Card. The cards come in three colors depending on if the card stores adult, child, or senior/disability fares.

Rabbit cards require a 50 baht deposit and can be purchased at any BTS Station. Cards can be topped up at stations or one of hundreds of vendors in Bangkok. Like some other cards we've seen, the Rabbit Card can be widely used as a stored value card at shops and restaurants in addition to being used for public transit. Cards can be used and filled at places such as McDonalds, Burger Kind, and Starbucks.

Being a Rabbit Card holder allows you to join the Carrot Rewards Program. Points can be earned by putting large top ups on your Rabbit Card and spent at retailers for discounts. Rabbit Card members are also eligible to use coupon machines located at various BTS stations for coupons to local restaurants, stores, and entertainment.

A coupon kiosk for Carrot Reward members at a BTS station. All the logos you see are partner companies that you can print multiple coupons to from this kiosk, including McDonalds, Dunkin' Donuts, and Major Cineplex, a local movie theater chain.

If there is one negative to the Rabbit Card it is that it currently does not work with the MRT subway system. The subway will be updated to accept the Rabbit Card in the future.

Takeaways for Boston

Although smaller than the MBTA, the Bangkok public transit lines do a few things Boston should consider:

  • Number stations and number exits. I didn't know where exactly Mo Chit station was on the Skytrain, but I knew it was N8 which told me which line I needed to take and the direction I needed to travel. Similarly, I knew the market I wanted to visit was at exit 1 of Mo Chit station which made it easy to make sure I was going the right way out of the station. Adding numbers to stations and exits of station would be a relatively small investment that would greatly help in way finding, especially for visitors to Boston.
  • Require deposit for Charlie Cards. Charlie Cards aren't free to produce and the T has said publicly that they have already produced and distributed more than they originally ever expected. Requiring a small deposit to purchase a Charlie Card recoups some of the cost that MBTA takes on to produce them.
  • Rabbit Card perks. Did you know that you can get discounts for having a Charlie Card? I don't believe most riders know. In visiting Bangkok less than a week the signage and coupon printing kiosks in stations told me that having a Rabbit Card entitled me to certain discounts (some of which I used!) The MBTA could improve by better advertising Charlie Card perks.