Buses are the most heavily used public transport in Bangkok with over two hundred bus routes playing a vital role in shuttling people between work, shops and home every day. Managed by the state owned Bangkok Mass Transit Authority many of the buses are badly neglected and services are often poor. One route in particular has become so notorious not just for poor service but as the cause of death, destruction and mayhem on Bangkok’s streets that it has become an icon in popular culture. That is the infamous “Fast and Furious” Bus Route 8.
The Bus to Happyland
It is perhaps supremely ironic that a bus that has become infamous for mayhem in fact is meant to take people to “Happyland”, which is actually a suburb in Bang Kapi named after a long-gone amusement park. The current service dates back to about 1954, being originally operated by the Nai Lert bus company. Its route starts at Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut) in the heart of Bangkok and runs for over 20km out to Happyland Market, a journey that can take anything from 1.5 to 3 hours depending on traffic conditions.
Crashes, Deaths and Mayhem
Route 8’s infamy starts with its ranking in surveys as the most complained about bus route in all of Bangkok. In 2014 the BMTA’s hotline received about 20 complaints per month about the Number 8 route. Some complaints are about the dilapidated buses which typically have wooden flooring, basic bench seating and no air-conditioning, whilst windows may be stuck either open or closed.
Many more of the complaints are about the bad behaviour of drivers and conductors. Frequent complaints are about bad driving describing buses swerving about the road to get ahead of traffic or to beat other buses to pick up passengers or else not stopping at the designated stops. Social media abounds with clips of dangerous driving and conductors being rude and abusive to their passengers. Furthermore a 2011 police report found that violent student fights broke out more frequently on the Number 8 route than any other.
Above all it is the reckless driving and frequent accidents, several resulting in deaths, that has taken Route 8 to its level of notoriety. In 2011 a Number 8 bus racing against a competitor caused a crash that killed one person and injured another waiting at a bus stop. In 2014 a Number 8 bus ran into a 13 year old cyclist killing him. The bus driver was later found to not have a valid bus drivers licence. In 2015 a Number 8 bus lost control on Phaholyothin Road and slammed into a pillar of the BTS skytrain near Soi Ari Station resulting in three injuries (Including the driver himself). In 2016 the Number 8 collided with a motorbike taxi resulting in the death of another woman.
Despite government promises to clean up the bus service the mayhem appears to continue. A check of the BMTA website sees that the complaints continue to come in regularly. Just last year a Number 8 bus was caught on video crashing through the lowering boom gates of a railway level crossing.
The Number 8 Bus Enters Pop Culture
With so much attention in both the traditional media as well as on social media it was perhaps inevitable that the Number 8 bus would become larger than life in the world of popular culture. In 2015 a Thai fan of the computer game Grand Theft Auto recreated the Number 8 bus within the game and posted a video online of a destruction filled drive through the city.
In 2016 the prolific Thai film director Poj Arnon released “Pard 888” which he both wrote and directed. In this movie the immediately recognisable Number 8 bus is given the lucky number 888 and careers through 90 minutes of chaos and comedy on the streets of Bangkok.
As a spin-off from the movie a raucous pop song “Pard 8” was released that portrayed an amusing if highly exaggerated take on the infamous bus route.
Behind the Headlines
Unfortunately the reality behind all the stories is one of overworked and underpaid staff trying to make ends meet. Although Route 8 is nominally managed by the BMTA the services have been contracted out to three private companies which compete for customers along the same route.
The bus drivers typically have a basic wage of just 100 baht per day whilst earning a commission of 10% of ticket sales. Conductors earn 50 baht with 5% commission. It is this commission structure that turns the daily job into a competitive struggle against other buses.
In order to boost their income drivers will attempt as many round trips each day as possible leading to regular exhausting 15 hour shifts. Traffic congestion as well as poorly maintained buses reduces the number of runs a bus can make thus reducing income and increasing the pressure to get as many passengers as possible.
The poor working conditions mean that stress and ill-health are common problems amongst the bus crews. Despite numerous government announcements over many years to clean up the notorious Route 8, nothing seems to have been done to address these fundamental issues.
Taking A Ride on the Number 8 Bus
In the spirit of journalistic research Siamrat last month took a short ride on the Number 8 bus leaving Memorial Bridge. There is no escaping the fact that the buses themselves are dirty, old and noisy. But on that day at least the driver behaved perfectly as he manouvered his vehicle through the unrelenting traffic jams. Similarly the conductor was polite, courteous and helpful. All a far cry from their fast and furious reputation but perhaps supporting the view of many Number 8 staff who believe they have been unfairly singled out for criticism whilst working under such poor conditions.
Where to Go
- Trams Buses and Rails, The History of Urban Transport in Bangkok, 1886 – 2010. Ichiro Kakizaki. Silkworm Books, 2014.
- Bangkok Bus Service Improvement Study: A Case Study of Bus Line 8. Krit Phooriphokhai, thesis for Master of Science, Thammasat University, 2016