Key to the concerns is that PLTO Chief Sommai Sudkaow claims that his office is powerless to take action against visa-run companies for offering passenger transport to visa-run destinations as he claims his office has no evidence that foreigners using the service individually pay “fares” to be transported.
The news comes as the Phang Nga Land Transport Office reports they are investigating whether the KBV Visa Run van that crashed on Dec 21 – killing three foreigners and seriously injuring eight others – was carrying the correct registration for its purpose. (See story here.)
The van in the accident was registered as a private passenger van, not a commercial passenger vehicle.
To distinguish the two, private passenger vans are issued licence plates with blue writing on a white background, while commercial passenger vehicles, such as taxis, buses and many of the vans operating at Phuket International Airport, are fitted with yellow licence plates with black writing.
“After the accident, we went to investigate. The sign in front of the (KBV) office didn’t say that they have a transportation service for visa runs, it says ‘visa renewing service’, which perhaps means arranging documents,” PLTO Chief Sommai told The Phuket News.
“It doesn’t say obviously that the service is for ‘transporting people to go for visa run business’, so we cannot accuse them of that,” he said.
“The customers can leave the country by their own vehicles or maybe with the public transportation vans, so the operators can deny that the vans are not for this service,” Mr Sommai said.
“So there’s no right for us for investigate this because to accuse them of transporting people illegally needs evidence that the passengers actually pay the drivers individually.
“The fare might be included in the visa fee, so we can’t prosecute them unless the passengers confirm that they need to pay the van fare, which would mean the company uses the van for visa runs.”
Worse, Phuket visa-run vans that are registered as private vehicles are exempt from the transport safety crackdown ordered by PM Prayut after the horrific collision in Chonburi on Jan 2 that cost 25 lives. (See story here.)
After the accident, Acting President of the state-owned Transport Co Ltd Gen Amnat Unardngam ordered that all commercial passenger vans (with yellow plates) be fitted with GPS as a safety measure by Mar 31.
However, Mr Sommai confirmed that private vans, such as those used by Phuket visa-run companies, are excluded from the order.
“There is nothing we can do about this,” Mr Sommai said. “We cannot enforce the GPS regulation on them because they are registered as private vehicles and the GPS law does not cover them.”
The Mar 31 deadline handed down for all yellow-plate vans to be fitted with GPS applies only to commercial passenger vans registered in Bangkok, Mr Sommai said.
Also, the ramped-up deadline is nothing more than an enforcement of a law introduced over a year ago, he added.
“Department of Land Transportation introduced a regulation early last year for every commercial passenger van to have GPS installed,” Mr Sommai explained.
Under the new regulation, commercial passenger vans registered after Jan 1, 2016 must be fitted with GPS at the time of registration, while those registered before Jan 1, 2016 must have GPS installed before the end of 2017, he explained.
“Today there are more than 4,600 of these vans in Phuket that already have GPS installed. The same with buses. More than 1,000 of the 2,000 buses registered in Phuket already have GPS installed,” he said.
The penalty for being caught without a functioning GPS unit installed is a fine of up to B50,000, Mr Sommai noted.
Regardless, Mr Sommai supported the GPS drive, saying it would improve road safety and reduce accidents.
“The GPS can be tracked by our control room here in Phuket. Actually, every province has one,” he said.
“We have three officers each working eight-hour shifts, making sure there is someone on duty 24 hours a day. We can see where each van is, what course they have travelled and how fast they are going,” he added.
To Mr Sommai, the GPS units fitted in the yellow-plate vans, many of which pick up tourists arriving at Phuket International Airport, can be used to regulate the driver’s speed – but admitted the option was self-regulating.
“The van-service operators can set at which speed the GPS will sound an alarm, which will sound inside the van so the driver and the passengers know and it will send an alert to our control room,” he said.
Any incidents or complaints received by the PLTO officers in the control room are passed on to their supervisor at the end of each shift, Mr Sommai said.
However, the greatest pressure for drivers to reduce speed and drive safely might come from the passengers themselves.
“There is a new app developed by the Department of Land Transport (DLT) and the Road Safe Fund that allows passengers – and anyone else – to enter the van’s licence plate number in the app and check where the van is and how fast it is going,” Mr Sommai explained.
“People can file a complaint directly through the app which will send the complaint immediately and directly to our control centre,” he said.
“Complaints can include speeding, not travelling along the correct route, dangerous driving, overloading and overcharging. For example, if people complain the driver is driving too fast – we can then inform the driver to slow down – or take more serious action,” Mr Sommai added.
“People can use the app to also inform us of any problems with the van, such as a flat tyre or they’re stuck in a traffic jam. They can even use it to find the nearest DLT office. If need be, we can contact emergency services to provide assistance.”
“People without smartphones can still file complaints directly to us by calling the 1584 hotline,” Mr Sommai noted.
“The hotline has officers on standby 24 hours to receive complaints, answer questions and to provide information,” he said.
– Premkamon Ketsara