Vietnam's advertising regulator said a ban on advertisements on public buses in Ho Chi Minh City, which came into effect in mid June, does not comply with state regulations.
Ninh Thi Thu Huong, head of the advertising management department at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the rest of Vietnam allows advertisements on the sides of public buses and other means of transport.
"I can't see why HCMC has to introduce the ban," Huong said, noting the city government did not seek an opinion from her department.
Although the city government has been authorized to grant licenses to advertisements on public transport, it does not mean the city can do what it wants, she said.
"If an advertisement meets all requirements, it has to be licensed."
Huong said the culture ministry has asked the city government to revise its advertising regulations and now "it's the job of the city to make a final decision."
Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, deputy chairwoman of the HCMC People's Committee, said Tuesday she had ordered concerned agencies in the city to look into the issue as requested by the ministry.
The city government has continued to outlaw advertisements on public buses since June 15. The decision has been seen merely as an extended version of a similar ban in place since 2002.
The city Transport Department last year proposed a lifting of the ban, saying advertisements on bus sides would earn operators VND120 billion (US$6.74 million) a year and help reduce the need for subsidies.
Public bus operators in HCMC have been receiving increasing subsidies every year. The subsidies increased from VND39.6 billion ($2.3 million) in 2002 to VND610 billion ($36 million) last year, according to the department.
But Nguyen Thanh Tai, vice chairman of the city People's Committee, said in a statement late last year that the city authorities were not prepared to allow advertisements on buses.
The ban has long been protested by many experts and advertising industry insiders.
Do Kim Dung, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Advertising Association, said it's hard to understand why the city had to impose the ban because many countries and all other localities in Vietnam allow ads on buses.
"The city government has claimed that the ban is meant to preserve the city's image and ensure traffic safety, but is anything getting better after years of applying the ban?" Dung asks.
Dr. Pham Xuan Mai, a transport engineering professor at the HCMC University of Technology, said the money that can be earned from advertisements on 3,000 city buses is big, estimated at between VND120-150 billion ($7-8.7 million).
"Even if a part of the money would have to be given back to the businesses, the city government can't deny the fact that the income would help reduce subsidies for buses," he said.
"It isn't difficult at all to control advertising on public transportââ‚¬¦ as rules and penalties have been set already," Huong said.
Without advertising on buses, there would not be enough money to finance the public transport system, she added.
"You can just look at the buses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to see the difference. Hanoi buses are more beautiful and the fares are also cheaper."
The Vietnam Road Administration last month said the public bus system in HCMC was not as effective as the one in Hanoi. The average subsidy for each bus passenger in HCMC is VND1,783, double that of Hanoi. The number of bus passengers in the southern metro is around 85 percent of that in the capital city.
HCMC is expected to have 6,550 buses by 2020, according to the administration, which regulates road traffic in the country.