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PHUKET: There are some grandiose schemes underway to accommodate the rising number of vehicles plying Phuket’s roads, which is growing at a higher rate than ever with some 500 new registrations every month.

Few hold out much hope that the stranglehold on public transport by the island’s widely detested syndicates will ever be seriously addressed – at least in areas frequented by tourists. Although the provincial council recently won a national “innovation” award for its ‘Pink Bus’ system, the safe and friendly vehicles used on these routes are restricted to zones in and around Phuket Town – despite the fact that similar systems have been operating in virtually every other part of Thailand for decades.

Over in Patong, which has the highest tuk-tuk density and passenger fares in the world, we are told that work on the Patong Tunnel will be underway by 2013, and that the project is needed to ensure public safety.

Meanwhile, up on Patong Hill two backhoes have been beavering away on the nine-million-baht “Welcome to Patong” sign, funded under the government’s Thai Khem Kaeng (Strong Thailand) stimulus package.

How the sign will make Thailand “stronger” (or Phuket roads safer) is anyone’s guess, but the work raises an interesting question. How much road paint would nine million baht buy?

The question arises from the state of Patong Hill in the tunnel project area. As if the hairpin turns, steep gradients and oil residue on the road weren’t bad enough, the street lights no longer work – at a time when they’re needed more than ever. Rounding out these perfect conditions for rainy-season mayhem and death are the badly faded road markings, where they can be seen at all.

But not all of Phuket’s road safety problems can be put down to infrastructure. Local driving skills are apparently legendary (see consensus).

So government failures, island-wide, to perform in something as mundane as keeping the roads properly lined is baleful. Given the minuscule cost involved, it’s also inexcusable. We don’t need to talk about “budget” here.

A few years ago a group of Prince of Songkla University students showed that in many cases road lines can be rediscovered by simply using a stiff brush, strong detergent and a bit of water to scrape off the grunge.

Perhaps some folks are simply too busy lining their pockets to care much about lining our roads.