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BANGKOK'S TRAFFIC JAMS ARE BUSINESSES' BREAD AND BUTTER

Bangkok's notorious traffic jams dictate people's lifestyles and cost Thailand billions of dollars a year, but the snarls have also inspired a slew of business ventures, a research group says.

Bangkok's worsening traffic situation costs Thailand some 60 billion baht ($2.4 billion) annually in gasoline consumption, health-care expenses for traffic-related illnesses and just wasted time, the Thai Farmers Research Center said in a study released Thursday."The infamous traffic condition does change the daily life of most people in Bangkok . . . some families even move to temporary downtown residences to avoid commuting during the weekdays," the study said.

"The traffic problem not only changes the way people spend their day but also has some interesting business implications," it added.

The survey said about 1,285 new vehicles hit Bangkok's streets each day, straining existing parking facilities. As a result, inner-city parking lots earn up to 100,000 baht ($4,000) an average each day.

An inadequate mass transit system in Bangkok, home to 5.6 million people, has also paved the way for a variety of private transport services.

Motorcycle taxi services generated over 5.0 billion baht ($200 million) of income in 1994, and Thai Farmers estimates there are about 40,000 motorcycles for hire in the city.

A private microbus company that charges seven times the fare that city buses cost has also begun to flourish in Bangkok, taking advantage of insufficient buses provided by the city. Commuter van services and boats and ferries have also gained popularity and market share, Thai Farmers said.

Car sales jumped nearly 23 percent in the first quarter of 1995 compared with the same period in 1994, while motorcycle sales rose 11 percent for the first three months of 1995.

New 24-hour auto service stations and mobile maintenance units have emerged, taking advantage of demand from commuters whose cars wear down faster than usual because of traffic woes.

Consumption of unleaded and super benzene gasoline has also risen - to about six million liters a day in the first quarter of 1995 compared with 5.44 million a day in 1994.

With people stuck in traffic for long stretches, demand has also grown for mobile phones and pagers - boosting income at telecommunications companies, Thai Farmers said.

It said net profits at telecommunications firms increased more than 140 percent in 1994 compared with 1993, while net profits at mobile phone businesses jumped more than 150 percent in 1994 from the previouus year.

Fast food, convenience stores and ready-to-eat meals have also grown in popularity, as people caught in traffic are opting to spend more money for convenience and time-saving services, Thai Farmers said.