I now live in Seattle, a burgeoning city of a developed country. Outside my window blares the construction noise that will eventually become a streetcar that will extend for not much more than a mile through the city. It is in proximity to a lightrail system that runs from the airport to downtown, with stops along the way. For years there has been construction that will become a lightrail spur that will extend the line by another three miles at best. The city at present depends on a bus system which faces extreme cutbacks due to budgetary shortfalls. This is not a matter of concern to many of the city's residents--they have private automobiles.
Bangkok has a love affair with private automobiles that arguably exceeds that held by Seattle. A middle-class family in Bangkok frequently has a car for each member old enough to drive, and a car and driver for those who can't yet reach the steering wheel. In spite of the notorious traffic jams that bring the city to a standstill, people cling to the comfort and privacy of a car. Even so, Bangkok has spent years and a lot of money on public transit.
At first the passengers on the Skytrain were mostly tourists. Bangkok residents who used public transit stuck to the buses, which carried passengers at a fraction of the Skytrain's cost. The subway, except for commuter rush hours, was almost empty. But not any more--and the people who crowd into these conveyances are local, covering a wide gamut of income brackets.
The cliche "If you build it, they will come," proved true in a city that at first was lukewarm toward high-speed mass transit. In the U.S. only Los Angeles seems truly committed to providing an alternative to the automobile--imagine, the city with the most highly developed car culture is working full-tilt on a regional subway system.
Meanwhile in Seattle, I spend hours every week waiting for a bus. Often I discover that the bus I'm waiting for now longer exists. The ones that are still in the system hold no allegiance to any sort of schedule. As I used to in Bangkok years ago, I now figure two hours to go anywhere by bus in Seattle. If I'm early, good--I'll relax over coffee and a paper. However, I always am accompanied by a strong sense of irony, realizing that as Thailand becomes more of a developing country, the United States is achieving the status of a non-developing one.