The system is a bit tricky, but not impossible to understand
Bangkok is one of Southeast Asia’s first major cities to have a free sharing bike system, emulating the ones that already exist in Europe. Bangkokians are always quick to embrace trends, especially if they have their origins abroad, and biking is one of those trends. But over a century ago already Thai monarchs fell in love with bicycle, and during the development of Ratchadmanoen Nok Avenue, the oldest part of that prestigious boulevard, the middle lanes were reserved for the Royal Family to cycle.
Now, more than a century later, Bangkok embraces the bicycle once again. In European cities shared bikes provide commuters with an eco-friendly means of transportation to cover short distances. Three years ago, with much fanfare, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) launched its own free bike scheme called the Pun Pun Bike System (pronounced pan pan, it literally means “share a bike”), an ambitious plan to develop a free bike scheme all across this sprawling metropolis.
The original plan was to cover Bangkok with a network of free bike stations, implemented in phases, covering most of the city limits. Unfortunately, as with many other official projects, the plan remains only halfway complete. During the past three years the plan to further develop the scheme was effectively put on ice, the main reason being the political turbulence which overtook Bangkok two years ago. Since then Pun Pun Bike has been waiting for the green light for its further implementation.
The bike system is, consequently, only available in Bangkok CBD—roughly between Sukhumvit 10, Hua Lamphong, Sathorn and Silom. Currently there are 50 stations available, with some 400 bikes provided to the public. The bikes themselves are very simple, equipped only with one speed. So why aren’t more resident and visitors using this commendable (although incomplete) form of transportation? Well, for one it’s not that easy to understand how it works, especially if you don’t speak Thai. However, here’s a quick explanation of how to successfully get your wheels in motion.
You can register online (www.punpunbikeshare.com), but the problem with the website is that its main entry page is in Thai, even though the registration form is in English. This will be soon be rectified, according to Mr. Dittaporn from Smart Bike Service, the private company which has partnered with the BMA.
“We just designed a new website exclusively in English, and it should be launched very soon,” he assures potential cyclists. And once your application registered, the company will send, by mail, a card with which to use the system.
But for those who are only temporarily in Bangkok, such as eco-minded tourists, there are other ways to get the Pun Pun Bike Card. Three stations have Bicycle Officers registering potential customers on site. According to Mr. Dittaporn, they are generally located at one station in Sathorn, another one in Ploenchit, and a third along Silom. “However, officers are not always present as we request sometimes for some other jobs. But visitors can always come to Chulalongkorn University where we do have our office. We will then provide a card immediately”, he adds.
Visitors must bring ID—a passport for non-Thais—and pay a registration fee of B120. For now the use of the bike itself is free of charge, in order to raise awareness and interest, but this will not last for ever. “The bike system is really made for short trips, for example from the skytrain to your work place. It does not make sense to keep the bike all the day, and we will soon re-implement a payment according to the time of use,” explains an SBS representative.
Once the payment scheme is revived, it will cost just B10 for usage between 15 and 60 minutes, B20 for 1 to 3 hours, and B40 the fourth and fifth hour of use. So far, the total number of stations is concentrated in a square roughly delineated by Ratchathewi BTS station, Ratchadamri Road (near Pratunam Centre), Hua Lamphong Rail Station, and Sathorn Boulevard. However it is currently possible to ride all day with the same bike—while it’s still free—and a great plan is to take a bike from the stations located either at Siam or Hua Lamphong, and travel to Bangkok’s historical city (Dusit and Phra Nakhon districts). On the weekend, the roads are generally empty from National Stadium to Ratchadmanoen and Sanam Luang on the way to the Grand Palace.
But will the network ever expand the way the rest of the city is rapidly stretching out in every direction? According to Mr. Dittiporn, the second phase is likely to be launched next year, and it will finally give a new dimension to the scheme. Another 40 to 50 bike stations are set to be added, especially along BTS and MRT lines. It will thus provide bicycles all along Sukhumvit Road, up to Bangna, as well as in Thonburi and around Chatuchak Park.
“We are also thinking of having stations connected to public boat piers along Bangkok’s canals. Our aim is to favour a clean way of transportation—easy, practical and accessible to all,” says an SBS representative. In fact, the government is now keener than ever to develop the system, as it has proven to be of great value. “We had zero accident with our bikes over the last three years. I think that it is rather remarkable as we record on average 500 rides per day and already account over 10,000 subscribers,” Mr. Dittiporn points out with pride.
Similar bike schemes have also been further developed in Chiang Mai and in Phitsanulok. These are great initiatives, and the government wants to push the use of bicycles across the country. During the recent Thailand Travel Mart in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s Minister of Sports and Tourism Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul announced that Thailand would develop before the end of the year another 690 km of bicycle lanes all across the Kingdom, offering further opportunities for local and foreign bike fans to criss-cross the country on two wheels. And maybe convince more lazy car and motorcycle drivers to do the same.
Practical Advice for Users
Bring your own lock and helmet (as neither is provided with the bicycle). The map of all Pun Pun Bike station locations is available at each station, and on the website. Bikes must be returned before midnight as stations are then deactivated. Finally, it is not possible to obtain a bike after 8pm.
Tel: 087 029 8888 (English spoken)
While the Pun Pun Bike System is great for downtown residents, it’s also worth noting that there are many bike tour companies that offer residents and tourists alike a chance to cycle through Bangkok’s greener pastures. Let’s Go Biking is one such organization, and their tours of Bang Krachao, otherwise known as “Bangkok’s green lung” are not to be missed. For B1,400 you can explore this green-preserve in the outskirts of the city, riding a mountain bike along a beautiful elevated bikeway that passes parks and tranquil canals.