First time I was in Phuket, the bypass road was a quiet, two lane road, with just a few blocks alongside.
Now, 10 years later, traffic is packed and it looks like the road has to be widened to at least three lanes in each direction. What 10 years ago took five minutes to drive, takes 25-30 minutes today in the rush hour.
Though a lot of things are changing in Phuket, transportation around the island is not one of them. In 2002, I was surprised at the high price level for tuk-tuks from Patong to the nearby beaches. Now, in 2012, transportation seems worse than ever.
Taking a taxi from Kantary Bay [on Phuket's east coast at Cape Panwa] to a resort just a couple of kilometres away will cost you at least 300 baht. To get from the airport to the southern areas, the price level is close to 1000 baht, unless you know of the taximeter service.
Hotel staff have to spend hours to go to work with the inefficient local buses, or have to spend far too much on buying a scooter which causes even more queues.
When asking about public transport, the answer is that it is almost non-existing. What has happened to development in the transportation sector in 10 years? Not much, it seems.
If Phuket had something even close to visionary politicians, the island would now be close to completing the constructiion of a full scale metro system from the airport to all main beaches as well as to Phuket Town. In lack of this, one would at least expect a highly developed bus transportation system, with separate bus lanes, departures every 10 minutes, express busses from the airport to main beaches and an electronic, modern ticketing system.
Why is there a totalt lack of this? According to many local people I've been asking about this (among them several official taxi owners as well as hotel staff and hoteliers), the answer is simple: Corruption.
Tuk-tuks and illegal taxis operate on Phuket in a well organised system, with lots of protection. When someone criticises this, they are either paid to shut their mouth or even threathened.
I do not have the power to decide if this is true or not, but this I can tell you: If Phuket does not manage to lift its infrastructure by tenfold, the island will loose its leading position in the tourist industry.
We do already see this in the Scandinavian market, where Phuket and Thailand was a winner for many years. Now, traffic is turning westwards to the Carribean, South America and the US.
I have asked several people why they chose not to go to Thailand and Phuket, and many has the same reason: Phuket has lost its attractiveness. Main reason: The tourists get tricked whenever there's a chance from tuk-tuk drivers, taxi drivers and so on.
Also, tourists are fed up with spending endless hours in Immigration then having to spend another hour or even more jammed in queues, as the traffic is increasing while the infrastructure is not.
From hotel staff that I have spoken with, I have learned that a maid typically makes around 300 baht per day. How does this correspond with an illegal taxi driver, charging 300 baht for 15 minutes' work?
Phuket, you have to clean up. Introduce taxi meters for all taxis, with public fares. Establish a modern transport (bus) system around Phuket, with electronic tickets and separate bus lanes. Start planning the metro system asap, and leave the job to a professional company without deep pockets.
If you do not manage, I'm afraid Phuket will loose in the battle for the most attractive guests. With Burma (Myanmar) opening up, other places in Thailand evolving and Cambodia soon to bid to the same tourists, why should tourists choose Phuket with all I have mentioned above?
Mr Gunnar Ekjord
Senior Manager and tour operation professional in Oslo, Norway.