PHUKET: The owner of the company running the Phuket Airport-Patong-Airport bus service admitted tonight that it hasn't started the way he'd hoped it would start.
If there is a sense of a 'Phuket Transport Evolution' among others, it certainly appears to be a gross exaggeration as far as reaction so far to the bus service is concerned.
Beyond the ephemeral, support for contractor Prakorb Panyawai and the innovative service - just what Phuket needs to change transport habits - hasn't exactly been overwhelming.
There are still too many holes in whatever strategy has been designed to influence Phuket people to abandon dangerous, road-clogging motorcycles in favor of safe, dependable buses.
In a revealing interview tonight, Khun Prakorb talked about his immediate problems. Basically, there hasn't been sufficient support for the bus service so far.
One would-be traveller, a Phuketwan reader, wrote asking: ''after waiting at tesco thalang trying to go to patong for more than 1 hour, I called airport bus express and was told the bus is not running ?
''the next one will be in 3 hours ? why ? we dont have customers so we dont go ? please can anyone follow up if this is a scheduled service or not.
''was hoping this service might work ! but it is not after only 4 days of service.''
Thanks you, Visitor to Phuket, for your honest and accurate summary.
Khun Prakorb was also honest and accurate with Phuketwan and told us he had already cancelled some services and adjusted others.
The night bus runs scheduled for 7.30pm and 8.45pm have already been cancelled, he said, because the area where the buses stop at Phuket International Airport is too dark for tourists to find at night.
He said he'd mentioned this to Phuket's Governor, who caught a bus at the weekend, and the Governor had said he would raise it with Airports of Thailand, which manages Phuket airport - from Bangkok.
Khun Prakorb said the new service was also facing pressure from the existing Phuket Airport to Phuket City bus service.
As a new service, he said he was obliged to defer to the longer-established service, so when their buses waited for passengers at, say, 8am and did not have enough until 8.30am, he was obliged to adjust his Airport-Patong timetable.
The result, he said, was that the Airport-Patong-Airport schedules no longer worked the way he had intended.
''We do not want to have problems with them, [the other bus line] so we adapt,'' he told Phuketwan this evening. ''We also do not want to change the official schedule because it will only confuse passengers.''
So there will continue to be disappointed passengers like Visitor to Phuket.
Since beginning on Friday, said to be the auspicious day, the Airport-Patong service - the word Express has never seemed appropriate - has operated only on weekends and two holidays, until today.
But Khun Prakorb says he is disappointed with the passenger response. Not only do passengers at the airport not seem to be aware of the service, but not enough people are hopping on or hopping off the way they were supposed to once the service began.
Phuketwan would hazard a guess and say ''Motorcycles are more convenient unless the authorities get serious about safety and decreasing traffic.''
Not sticking to the regular schedule is clearly a big problem for bus services everywhere, and alarming on Phuket so early in the life of a vital new connection that has public support.
Khun Prakorb, however, says he ''can't see any point'' in running a bus from the airport unless there is at least one passenger on board.
And there have been times since Friday - many times, in fact - when there has been no single passenger on board at the scheduled departure time from Phuket Airport.
What Khun Prakorb is already doing is running a minivan if there are not passengers for the regular bus.
A usual round trip from Phuket Airport to Patong and back to Phuket airport costs him 1000 baht to run, given fuel and staff.
But with a minivan, the costs are reduced to 600 baht. It's an option that Khun Prakorb is, sadly, already resorting to take at times.
He says passengers arriving at the airport peaks - he says they are at 10.30am and again at 3.30pm - produce the only two times when he has passengers for sure.
The rest of the time? Well, he says there are few passengers hopping on and off the bus along its route from Phuket Airport to Patong, which was one of the aims.
But with Phuket authorities failing to even attempt to persuade people to change their habits - riding a motorcycle at every option - what can be expected?
He's still unable to advertise the service inside the airport, so arriving tourists seldom know it's available.
He'd like a counter and a large billboard inside the airport building, but the airport director recently told him: ''Airport decision-makers [they're all in Bangkok] have yet to meet about your needs.''
Every day the new airport bus service goes on costs Khun Prakorb 7000 baht in outlays for drivers, ticket sellers, and additional costs.
In the first month, he says he's looking at a loss of 200,000 baht. He hopes he can keep going through to October and the high season, when he reckons things should be better.
Phuketwan wishes him the best of luck. With so little suport from Phuket's authorities, and without a strategy to change Phuket's transport habits, he's going to need plenty of luck.
And at least a few passengers.