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Phuket’s transport solutions? Or more traffic woes?

PHOTO: Phuket light rail travelling through Phuket Town

The Thai government has unveiled its latest plan to upgrade Phuket’s transportation infrastructure, including the much-debated light-rail system connecting the airport and Phuket Town.

Government spokesman Chai Wacharonke announced last week that the PM Srettha Thavisin acknowledges Phuket’s growth potential, aligning with the government’s policy to “establish Thailand as a regional hub for tourism, transportation and aviation”.

The PM has tasked the Transport Ministry with developing immediate, medium-term, and long-term plans to enhance Phuket’s transportation infrastructure, aiming to make it a leading tourist destination and key gateway in the lower South.

Of all the great things both tourists and resident expats have said about Phuket, “transportation” around the island ISN’T one of them.

The report also fails to acknowledge the decades-long issues with the mafia-like taxi and tuk tuk cabal and their threat to the success of any other transportation alternatives for the island.

The central government’s development plans covers land, sea, air and rail (light rail) transportation systems.

The Department of Highways will address traffic issues on Highway 402 (Thepkasattri Road) by upgrading to smart traffic signals, designating no-parking zones and closing many of the U-turn points on congested routes.

By 2026, the government aims to resolve traffic bottlenecks on Highway 402 and expand Highway 4027 (the alternative route through Pak Lok from, approximately, the airport to Heroines Monument).

The Expressway Authority of Thailand plans to develop a new expressway connecting Patong Beach/Kathu with the Phuket Airport, set to open by 2030. This new expressway runs, approximately, parallel to Thepkasattri Road, from the airport to Kathu, meeting up with the new expressway and Patong Tunnel, into Patong.

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand will also conduct yet another feasibility study on the 41.7 kilometre light rail system which would link Phuket International Airport and the Chalong Circle intersection, via Phuket Town. The study is said to address the area’s geographical conditions and ways to minimise traffic disruption during construction. The tram system construction is expected to start by 2028 and be operational by 2031.

Critics of the proposed light rail system argue that, at the proposed fare structure, locals will be unable to afford daily usage, whilst the route goes nowhere near the touristy west coast, making the light rail of little benefit to tourists.

Another feasibility study examines the benefits of developing Phuket’s deep-sea port. The study supports the growing cruise tourism industry in the Andaman Sea. The government spokesperson noted that this development could increase revenue from high-spending tourists by allowing them to dock and stay longer in Thailand. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

But, again, critics note that there is no current method of transferring a lot of people from the island’s east coast (Cape Panwa) to the busier west coast.

Meanwhile, Airports of Thailand has been directed to increase Phuket Airport’s capacity to handle up to 18 million passengers annually by 2031. Additionally, plans include introducing seaplane services to facilitate travel between nearby islands.

Phuket Airport’s major challenges for growth are that the community, since the establishment of the airport in 1988, have progressively hemmed in the space with shops, small hotels, alternative parking and other random services. There is no space to enlarge the car parking (unless they put a multi-storey car park at the domestic terminal) and there is little room to move if designers want to expand the current domestic or international terminals.

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