The move is historic. Not since tuk-tuk drivers nearly two decades stopped the sole bus operating between the two key resort towns of Patong and Karon, pulled the driver from the bus and beat him within an inch of his life in broad daylight has anyone dared to launch another bus service along that route again.
The PKCD Smart Bus service will challenge that authority, operating through the tuk-tuk and taxi mafia heartland and carrying passengers from Phuket International Airport all the way to the island’s southernmost beach town of Rawai for a minimum fare of B50 and a maximum fare of just B170.
Executive Director of Phuket City Development Co Ltd (PKCD) Watchara Jaru-ariyanon told The Phuket News this week, “The bus route will start from the airport and go to Cherng Talay, Surin, Kamala, Karon, Kata, Rawai and then back along the same route.
“We are launching the service of nine smart buses on Feb 28. This is the date that we are working towards,” he said.
“Although nine buses are to be operational, one is kept aside in case replacement is needed. So we have 10 buses,” he added.
“If 25 seats per bus is not enough for the demand, we are ready to order more buses. However, we will see first how people respond.”
Before the launch, there will be test runs, starting from next week, Mr Watchara noted.
“First, there will be an internal company trial run around Feb 10, and then another trial before Feb 28 to pick up real passengers who are members of the public.
“For the launch on Feb 28, there will be a launch event at Central Festival East (HomeWorks) whereby the Phuket Governor, members of the Phuket Provincial Office as well as from the national office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MoTS) will be present. Tourism offices are important as Phuket is a tourism destination,” he said.
“For the bus itself, the vehicle we are using is the newest Mercedes-Benz bus model on the market. These buses have many key features installed in them. First is space to put any luggage or large baggage as we know tourists who are travelling will be using our buses,” said Mr Watchara.
“Second is accessibility for wheelchair users. There is a special door with a ramp to lift wheelchair users onto the bus.
“Third, we have three CCTV cameras per bus, and we will have staff monitoring the CCTV at all hours that the service is in operation, to ensure safety,” he said.
“The buses will run every 30 to 45 minutes,” he added.
“The first departures will be from the airport and Rawai at 6am, while the last will be at 8pm. The total is 32 times a day.
“We will have 50 bus stops installed along the route where people can sit and wait. There will also be a mobile application where passengers can check the nearest bus location and its estimated arrival time.
The mobile application, called ‘choop.me’, will also be developed in the future to accommodate hotel, tour and restaurant bookings for tourists, explained Mr Watchara.
“The booking features of the app will be launched most likely in April, however the basic use of the app to track buses will be launched on Feb 28, together with the buses,” he said.
“‘Choop’ comes from Phuket Southern slang and means to ‘book’ or ‘reserve’,” he said.
Mr Watchara explained that the payment system for the buses will be via a “Smart Bus Phuket Card”, which will be sold at various locations and can be topped up online or manually.
“We are asking Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong to help us allocate parking spaces at the airport, and if this is possible, the cards will be sold at a booth nearby.
“PKCD will also ensure the cards are sold at the PKCD office, McDonald’s, Family Mart stores and later possibly 7-Elevens, Super Cheap, at tour counters, and on the buses as well. There are many possibilities that can be explored and added,” he said.
“PKCD is a company for the Phuket people, first. It is a social enterprise and not 100% for profit. It’s primary aim is a sustainable future for Phuket people.
“We would like to lead by example for other transport lines or companies. When tourists come, they can see that public transport in Phuket is a problematic thing. Phuket is far more beautiful than that,” he said.
“We are here to try and set an example, and lead the way. We are open to other companies or routes being added in, in fact that is what we want, for more routes of public transport in the future,” said Mr Watchara.