An increasing number of diesel vehicles and lack of enforcement powers are some of the problems facing Bangkok’s new administration in achieving its self-appointed goal
Like a coin, civilisation has two sides – good and bad. Having grown into a metropolis, Bangkok attracts many foreigners as well as people from the provinces who come in search of better-paid jobs. But along with the huge growth in population has come the many problems associated with it – chief among them air pollution.
Unlike in industrial cities, where factories are seen as the major culprits, the blame for air pollution in Bangkok rests on the millions of vehicles on its streets, especially those running on diesel and those that are poorly maintained.
The number of diesel vehicles has been rising steadily, but especially so nowadays when petrol prices are shooting up while diesel remains heavily subsidised, to the tune of about Bt6 per litre.
Even when the government removes its subsidy, which it has promised to do next year, we can expect the number of diesel vehicles to continue growing because diesel engines are less costly to run than petrol engines. Diesel engines are increasingly being fitted in vehicles that were formerly powered solely by gasoline engines, be they saloon cars, multipurpose vehicles or sport utility vehicles.
The fact of the matter is that diesel-driven vehicles are cheaper, and though Bangkok residents’ living standards are rising, most dump their motorcycles and resort to affordable cars.
The problem with diesel engines is that the fuel combustion is less complete than in gasoline engines, especially in old cars that are not kept in good running condition. This results in a higher level of emissions.
The result is a city is filled with smog. Look out at Bangkok at night from a building or other high point and the amount of smog is immediately clear. Think of all the people on the streets, breathing in the blackened air as they go about their business.
The new city governor, Apirak Kosayodhin, has decided to tackle not only Bangkok’s notorious traffic congestion but also the pollution it creates. He has given charge of the pollution problem to his deputy, Dr Samart Ratchapolsitte.
“This is one of three problems which must be urgently dealt with, aside from traffic and safety,” Samart said.
From now on, all 50 city districts will implement stricter measures to reduce vehicle emissions. Officers will check to see if cars emit higher levels of carbon monoxide than the prescribed maximum. Not surprisingly, most of the offenders detected so far were driving diesel vehicles.
The quality of air along main routes is being monitored and the level of particulates (microscopic particles) has been found to be higher than the permissible level on many of them. According to the international standard, an area is considered polluted when the level of particulates is above 120 micrograms per cubic metre.
“Eleven roads are very polluted and the most problematic road is Sukhumvit, around the On Nut and Phra Khanong intersections, where the level is 240 micrograms [per cubic metre],” Samart said.
Still, Samart said, it will take time to solve the problem, as the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has to deal with a number of agencies, including the traffic police, the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority and the Land Transport Department.
“All the BMA can do now is put a sticker on vehicles emitting higher-than-standard exhaust. We can’t even bar the motorists from using the vehicles. That’s the authority of the Land Transport Department and the traffic police,” he said.
Samart acknowledged that without adequate authority, the BMA cannot deal with the problem at its root, so its best approach is to campaign for all motorists to take better care of their vehicles.
Vehicles should pass emission tests before being run on the streets. Or more space could be allocated for planting trees, which help clean the polluted air.
Only then will the air in the nation’s capital become more breathable.