That potentially ground-breaking development was unveiled on Jan 26 with the announcement that Prince of Songkla University (PSU) Phuket campus had signed a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Patong Municipality and several private companies to assist in the research and development of an electric bus service to operate within Patong, among other projects that are expected to generate some B200 billion for the island’s economy within five years of being launched.
The MoU was signed at the PSU Phuket campus in Kathu. Present as signatories were PSU Phuket Campus Vice Chancellor Assoc Prof Dr Phan Tongchumnum and Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup.
Also present as signatories were Maroot Siriko, CEO of AMR Asia Co Ltd, and Thaphana Bunyaprawit, President of the Thai Association of Town Planning.
“Signing the MoU follows our university’s goal of being part [of the move] to improve Phuket by investing in the infrastructure to support tourism, in order to welcome tourists after the pandemic situation has been resolved and the country has fully reopened,” Dr Phan explained.
“Patong should have a good and nature-friendly transport system to connect people and places. Our university has scholars and other human resources to support and work with private companies to develop our island,” he added.
AMR Asia President Mr Maroot noted, “We have already examined the landscape of Patong to make a plan to construct a cable car system and a ferris wheel which will also have a skywalk and glass lift.
“Patong has many areas where new attractions can be built and attract more tourists.” he said.
“After this, there will be a public hearing to obtain comments from local people and business operators about the location of the project so that the project can support their businesses and does not affect the beauty of Patong,” Mr Maroot added.
“For the electric bus service, we will discuss this more with the Patong Mayor, and the Department of Land Transport for permission to use the road. We will also discuss with taxi drivers about bus stops and the service route, so that the buses do not affect their business,” he said.
“There will be smart cards, smart bus stops,and smart parking lots for local people in the same way that are used in Bangkok,” Mr Maroot explained.
“Our company signed a MoU with PTT Public Co Ltd last year for research about the project, and about installing EV chargers in Thailand. Right now, we are ready to install EV chargers in all areas of Phuket, and we will install in Patong as the first area in this year,” he said.
The EV charging points discussed were not just for the electric bus service being proposed, but also for private vehicles, Mr Maroot explained.
Mr Thaphana, who also serves as a committee member of the Thai Charter for Health, explained that the projects proposed “would move forward the economy and attract more investment in Patong”.
“I expect that we will have determined the location for the cable car station and the route for the electric bus service in May this year,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the electric bus and EV charger installations are expected to start at the end of this year, if the project gains a good response from local people,” he added.
“As for the construction of the cable car and ferris wheel, they may need to wait for a new town plan at the beginning of next year, so that we can file for construction permission.” Mr Thaphana noted.
“The cable car may generate up to B150bn within five years after it opens for service. The whole project – cable car, ferris wheel, skywalk and glass lift – will generate about B200bn,” he said.
Ms Chalermluck told The Phuket News that the move to launch an electric public transport service was just one part of an overall campaign to develop Patong into a ‘green tourism city’ – a project she says was tabled long before the arrival of COVID-19 as a way to lure tourists to Patong year-round.
“We have been looking to generate income for Patong so the community could make money throughout the year. It all started from the economic problems of Patong over the past several years, even before the pandemic,” she said.
“Despite being a world-class tourism city, with many tourists visiting each year, generating enormous income for the country, local people still faced economic problems, especially after the high season ended. During the tourism low season most people living here had difficulties. The loss of income affected all sectors, including large hotel operators, shops, restaurants, small shops and businesses and service drivers,” she added.
One move was to push for the MICE City Patong Charter, eventually signed in May 2019, for all stakeholders to help develop Patong into a MICE destination, including the construction of a major conference centre that can accommodate 5,000 to 10,000 people, she explained.
“That project is currently in the process of studying various details in the construction,” she said on Monday.
“In the meantime, we can continue to work on making Patong a green and healthy city. From the research indicating that in the future tourism will be a form of health tourism. We therefore are pushing Patong to be the city of wellness to support future tourism trends.
“This approach has received a lot of attention from the private sector. By the end of March, we will have a meeting at Prince of Songkla University to discuss more details and what we can do to make it happen. We will discuss what each party, such as hoteliers, will be able to do during this period. Initially, we may offer wellness packages,” Ms Chalermluck said.
Tourists will eventually return to Patong in numbers, and when they do the streets will fill with vehicles, creating the problem of pollution, Ms Chalermluck added.
“We therefore need to have green transport to support [tourism]. Not just a bus, but green transportation, including a walking campaign. We will be making footpaths in all Patong areas, and we have set the budget for this work to continue. We are also pushing a bicycling campaign,” she said.
“However, everything is still difficult because it has to be redesigned. We have to wait to adjust the landscape [sic],” she said.
“In the meantime, we will do what we can. For now, the private sector wanted to conserve energy. Next, we will have more campaigns to get people using more electric vehicles. We will have charging stations in Patong, which will get more attention from the people,” she added.
The announcement of the electric bus project came on the same day that Ms Chalermluck confirmed to The Phuket News that she will run for re-election as Patong Mayor.
The confirmation, on Jan 26, followed Pakrit Keesin, younger brother to influential Patong businessman Preechawut ‘Prab’ Keesin, announcing on Jan 24 that he will contest the seat of mayor in the upcoming municipal election in Patong to be held on Mar 28.
Ms Chalermluck said she would announce her candidacy and her “team” when the Phuket office of the Election Commission of Thailand (PEC) officially had announced that all incumbent mayors must cease their duties to allow for campaigning to be held in the run-up to the election, which the PEC did on Monday (Feb 1).
“Then I will register as a candidate for Patong Mayor along with 12 candidates who will be running for election as municipality councillors during the registration period from Feb 8-12,” she added.
Mayor Chalermluck said that she would be leading the ‘Patong Fa Mai’ (“Patong New Sky”) Party in the election.
“I am preparing to present my policy with my team for this election. When the time comes, I will reveal the details of my policy to the people, and explain my accomplishments in past years,” she said.
In 2014, Mayor Chalermluck was the first woman Mayor of Patong. She won the election on April 26 with more than half the votes cast, leaving previous incumbent mayor Pian Keesin with just 3,330 votes out of 8,500 cast.
Ms Chalermluck’s election to the position of mayor was confirmed by the Election Commission of Thailand and she took office on May 21, 2014.
The next day, May 22, 2014, Royal Thai Army General Prayut Chan-o-cha led a coup to take control of the country.
In taking office more than six years ago, Mayor Chalermluck told The Phuket News, “The first thing I am going to do is to prepare to solve the flood problem, followed by the garbage problem and then the mafia.
“I want to create a situation where those who are doing everything legally do not have to pay influential people.”