I hate to drive.
Yes, I know I could have my American passport revoked for such a blasphemous statement, but it’s true. Bangkok traffic jams are the traffic jams all other traffic jams are measured by. And there’s nowhere to park in Bangkok once you get where you are going anyway. Pattaya is worse.
The traffic is moving, but in such a frenetic way I need to tranquilize myself before getting behind the wheel. And the road is full of people from somewhere else, driving cars they aren’t familiar with a high probability of being under the influence of an intoxicant. Let’s not even mention the menace of motorbikes.
So, I’ll say it again for the record … I hate to drive.
So how do I get around?
In Bangkok it’s easy. It is in fact one of the leading reasons to live in Bangkok. Even a rudimentary mastery of the public transportation system makes life in The Big Smoke infinitely easier than any other big city I’ve been to. The Skytrain, the Subway, the bus system, the taxis, even long-tail boats to cross the river are ubiquitous, cheap and easy to use. More importantly, they take you where you want to go.
Six months ago I added a spicy new ingredient to my transportation mix, the ride sharing phenomenon of Uber.
For those unfamiliar, Uber is a company that employs individuals to use their own cars providing private taxis to customers utilizing a highly efficient mobile phone application to arrange rides. You register with Uber, give them your credit or debit card information for billing purposes, download the app on your phone, and like magic you are part of Uber Nation.
I use Uber in Bangkok whenever I want to avoid standing around outside to hail a taxi, or a sweaty walk to the nearest public transport portal. I also use Uber if it’s late or I’m out of cash and don’t feel like tracking down an ATM machine. You can track your driver’s progress towards your location and expose yourself to the elements only when necessary. The cars are clean, the drivers are friendly, and they all have a navigation system that leads them to your destination. Best of all, no cash changes hands.
About a month ago I came back to Pattaya for an extended stay. For the first week I rented a car to get around. On top of confirming that I hate to drive, I soon noticed that I wasn’t using the car enough to warrant the expense. So, I had to reassess my transportation choices in Pattaya.
Metered taxis in Pattaya are relatively new providers. I have yet to get in a Pattaya “metered” taxi that actually turned the meter on. One driver told me that his meter wasn’t even connected. When I approach a driver somewhere on Beach Road and ask to be driven to my condo in Jomtien, normally they start with asking for 300 baht. Depending on the traffic and time of day, we can usually agree on somewhere between 150 and 200 baht. It isn’t a perfect solution, and it also comes with all the issues inherent with a taxi driver like language problems and navigational glitches.
If you are like me and live in a non-tourist area, getting a taxi to go out is difficult. I have at least a dozen numbers of taxi drivers on my phone. Half of them don’t answer my calls and the other half can’t figure out how to get where I live.
Songtaews, the open air buses you see everywhere, are a cheap solution but only run in the most tourist laden areas. There are times when I take a motor bike taxi about 1 kilometer to a road where I can be picked up by a songtaew, but by the time I get where I’m going it is a big sweaty ordeal. I don’t care how cheap it is, I prefer air conditioned comfort and curbside service.
I tried looking for an Uber driver in Pattaya but had no luck. Uber does cover this area, but there has been a great amount of resistance from the “Meter Taxi Mafia”. Uber drivers have been threatened both in Bangkok and Pattaya. Even though the government has said Uber and other ride-sharing companies are not illegal to operate (As of this publishing date, details for licensing are still being worked out), throngs of taxi drivers feel like their livelihoods are being threatened. I understand the sentiment, but I think companies like this are the wave of the future and they’ll have to learn how to compete.
Fortunately I did find a solution. Another ride-sharing group called “Grab” is operating full tilt in Pattaya and includes metered taxis so they meet with less resistance than Uber. “Grab” operates in a similar manner to Uber but allows you to choose between “Grab Car”, “Grab Taxi” or “Grab Bike”. The prices are a bit cheaper than Uber and they seem to operate relatively free in Pattaya. I have found some drivers reluctant to drop off or pick up in heavy tourist areas like Central Festival or Beach Road. In any case, the thin-entering wedge of ride-sharing has arrived in Fun City and I for one am ecstatic.
I hail a Grab driver from my phone in the comfort of my own home and wait only a few minutes for them to arrive. When they pick me up I already know how much it will cost and the driver knows where I’m going and how to get there. When I come home I can choose any number of transportation providers including motorbike taxi, songtaew, meter taxi or Grab Car.
A quiet but significant signal that Pattaya is progressing in some helpful ways. I’ve always said that Pattaya is the easiest place for expats to live in Asia, and it just got even more user friendly. “Grab” a ride and see what I mean.