If you’ve spent a while in Bangkok, it’s likely that at some point you experienced the express boat service that runs up and down the Chao Phraya River. Perhaps you’ll be as surprised as I was to find that this service is being completely overhauled.
Recently, I was given exclusive access to the MINE Smart Ferry, the flagship of Thailand’s future express boat service. I was absolutely blown away by the amount of upgrades this new innovation and the system that is being built around it provides. If that has piqued your curiosity, take the plunge and come aboard this article of exploration! Adventure ho!
What is the MINE Smart Ferry?
With the BTS Skytrain and MRT subway lines being extended throughout Bangkok, modern high-speed rails being built across the country, and the new Hua Lamphong Station nearing completion, Bangkok is heading for a future of connectivity and ease of access when it comes to its public transportation systems, especially on land. It’s only natural that Thailand would turn its attention to the water.
The MINE Smart Ferry aims to address the modern demands of water transportation. MINE stands for “MIssion No Emission.” It’s one of the projects from E Smart Transport Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Energy Absolute Co., Ltd.
These new Thai-made ferries are electric catamarans that run on a collection of Lithium-ion batteries. These same batteries can be connected in other configurations if they are used in cars or buses, which makes them multipurpose. The ferry won the National Innovation Award 2020.
Making water transports smarter, safer, greener
How does the new MINE Smart Ferry stack up to its predecessor? Let’s go into more detail:
- Environmental Impact: The MINE Smart Ferry is fully electric. This means no air or water pollution from the combustion of fuel. Due to its sleek aluminum design, the catamaran also cuts through the water more efficiently, which means it needs less energy.
- Safety: The ferry comes with four emergency exits complete with landing platforms for rescue, window hammers, fire extinguishers, and flotation devices at every exit. It also comes fully equipped with CCTV for added security and peace of mind.
- COVID precautions: These days, measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 are absolutely essential when it comes to public transportation. The ferries are cleaned after every cycle with disinfectant and UV light. All passengers coming aboard must have their temperatures checked and receive some hand sanitizer.
- Stability: Catamarans are double bodied which make them significantly wider and more stable than the conventional express boats. This means they offer a more comfortable experience for those who are prone to getting seasick.
- Noise: Electric motors are incredibly quiet. You can easily have a regular conversation while in motion. This is also great news for those who live next to the river as they will no longer have to suffer from noise pollution.
- Ease of use: Large screens on board display maps and announce each stop making sure you no longer get lost or miss your destination.
- Fare: Surely, there’s no way the new ferry will only cost 20 baht, right? Wrong. At least for the time being you can ride the ferry along its entire 20 km route for only 20 baht. As the system expands this may change. However, the price will remain extremely competitive. On top of that, the boat uses contactless payment with cards (the cards even have QR codes on the back so you can top them up without going to a counter!).
- Capacity: The old express boat could hold about 100 passengers comfortably or up to 180 rather uncomfortably. The new ferries have seating for 150 and comfortable standing room for a further 100
- Air conditioning: That’s right. These new ferries are fully air conditioned offering the same experience you might have riding the MRT or BTS. This feature alone may very well be responsible for a huge influx of passengers once the country opens back up.
Seamless urban travel
Perhaps the biggest change to the system will be the introduction of smart piers.
Gone are the days of waiting on a toasty dock in the midday sun and then making the big leap onto the express boat before it charges off. The smart pier offers full wheelchair accessibility as well as the ability to step onto the ferry at ground level. Passengers will also get to enjoy air-conditioned waiting rooms with large screens indicating which boats to take. These new piers will get a makeover that combines traditional Thai architecture with modern design.
The new system will eventually offer full connectivity with the BTS and MRT lines at five different locations along its route (once the new lines are complete), letting passengers transfer seamlessly from one service to the other.
The new routes will allow passengers to get to where they need to go far faster, with fewer stops. This includes a special route designed for tourists which focuses on the range of historically significant locations along the river including Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew.
Other upgrades in Thai water transport
As demand increases, there are plans to add over 100 other ferries to the system as well as plans to upgrade existing piers into smart piers to accommodate the new influx of passengers.
There are also smaller prototype electric ferries designed for narrow canals which are already running up and down Saen Saeb Canal as part of a major project by the BMA to offer service from Hua Lamphong BTS Station Pier all the way to Therawat Market Pier. This is a good precursor for what we can expect, not only on Bangkok’s major canals but also in other cities across the country.
In Phuket, there is an e-Ferry tour boat service run by Banpu NEXT. The same company partnered with Haupcar to provide an electric car sharing service. As Thailand opens back up there will be a major shift towards sustainable tourism.
This is still just the beginning. There are also plans to replace all of Bangkok’s buses with electric vehicles as well. Electric technology is finally seeing a boom in application and we can expect great changes in the right direction because of it. Perhaps one day soon we’ll enjoy a completely electric Bangkok with clean, smog-less air.
In fact, as there are now a few points where the MRT lines delve below the Chao Phraya River, you’ll actually be riding a ferry over a train. How’s that for the Bangkok of tomorrow?
Staying true to Thailand’s riverside culture
Thailand has had a long history inexorably tied up with its rivers. Not so long ago, Bangkok was criss-crossed by canals. These were used as roads, marketplaces, and a source of water. In fact, at that time, Bangkok was even known as the Venice of Southeast Asia.
Though Bangkok’s waterways have mostly been paved over and its denizens now get their water filtered through a plant, the Chao Phraya River remains a crucial artery for trade and transport. However, with a dwindling number of passengers, it was certainly time for an upgrade.
The future of the express boat service is bright. The MINE Smart ferries as well as the system itself is an improvement across every facet of sustainability and convenience. It’s greener, safer, more comfortable, more efficient, and better integrated with other mass transit networks. I have no doubt that the river will once again become an integral part of not just Bangkok but Thailand’s public transportation. In just a few years time, you can expect to enjoy electric ferries along rivers, canals, and between tropical islands.