The unbearable burden of Bangkok bus fare collectors


During rush hours, and not only rush hours, there are many times that bus fare collectors can be seen frustrated, brooding or bad-tempered to passengers who wonder what causes them to have such facial expressions and unhappy behaviours.

In the capital of the Land of Smiles, most bus fare collectors are women, and while they sometimes offer passengers a smile, frazzled ticket collectors are not ‘fair maidens’, but ‘fare maids’. Damsels in distress, they work long hours and must bear with unpredictable passengers, hot weather, and heated tempers fired up by notorious traffic snarls.

Pornthip Ubonsaeng is one of such collectors who must work 8-12 hours/day. Not only must she bear with the weather and packed passengers, but she must also endure the stress, even torture, of holding her urine.

There are no statistics available, but poorly paid female ticket collectors must invest in even more clumsy adult nappies at all times while working on board.

“It’s difficult when I can’t hold my urine,” says Pornthip.”Sometimes, my legs ache all over. It’s many things, the discomfort. Sometimes, I go to the hong nam (Thai for water closet, loo, or toilet) but as I’m slow, I don’t want to keep the bus driver or passengers waiting, so I wear nappies,” she said.

Another hardy bus ticket collector shared her experiences. Patcharin Sengsuebpon said she must work at least 13 hours continuously every day. She said she was so stressed from work and ill with cystitis and that she thought she wanted to commit suicide.

“When that happens, it’s torturing, so torturing, that I no longer want to live. I think I’d better kill myself. Better to commit suicide. I weep. It hurts. Why do I have to suffer so much? I thought a lot. It’s very painful. A close friend of mine even took me to a psychiatrist. Those who never have cystitis will never know it’s very painful,” she confided.

A human resources related agency conducted a survey of 761 female bus fare collectors in December and January concerning their quality of life.

Almost half of the respondents said they worked an extra two hours for overtime, but about 94 per cent admitted that they were stressed from traffic problems.

Most of them said they had illnesses as a result of their duty on the buses. Ninety per cent said they faced muscle pain or muscle weakness. Eighty per cent said they suffered stomach trouble, or peptic ulcers, while 79 per cent said they had urinary tract concerns. One in four of those surveyed said they had to wear adult nappies, while on duty.

The health problems of those in this career has been brought to the attention of concerned organisations and agencies several times for resolution but the problems have not been resolved.

The labour union of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) has asked the BMTA to provide better welfare for the better health of its employees, particularly lavatories, suitable working schedules and a larger workforce to meet more passengers’ demand.