Ban on old motorbikes could hurt the poor

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Critics of the HCMC proposal say seizing older vehicles would be both unfeasible and effectively prohibit many poor people from earning a living

  A deliveryman repairs his rickety motorbike on a Ho Chi Minh City street. City authorities are considering limiting the age of motorbikes on the road hoping it would reduce accidents and pollution.

Dozens of bystanders rushed to remove the ceramic tile boxes, which had fallen on Le Van Hoang after his rickety motorbike collapsed under the weight of its heavy load on Ho Chi Minh City's Phan Dang Luu Street.

Their efforts however, were in vain, as the 22-year-old transporter of construction materials died on the spot from multiple injuries he sustained in the April 18 crash.

Witnesses said Hoang's decrepit bike looked like it could have collapsed at any moment as it traversed the potholed section of the street.

For the first time, authorities in the city of eight-million are considering a ban on older motorbikes, sparking criticism from those who say such a move would have a severe impact on poorer residents.

There are around 4.7 million motorbikes in HCMC, approximately one per every two residents.

Although there are no official statistics on old motorbikes, they can be seen all over the city being used by xe om (motorbike-taxi) and delivery drivers.

So far, it has not been made clear at what age a motorbike would be considered "old."

Last week, the city administration instructed the Police Department to draft regulations on an expiration date for motorbikes in an effort to curb both traffic accidents and environmental pollution.

At an August 13 meeting on traffic safety, deputy chairman of the city People's Committee Nguyen Huu Tin instructed the police and the city traffic safety committee to determine why traffic accidents in the city have been increasing of late.

According to the city traffic safety committee, there were 67 traffic accidents in July, killing 61 people and injuring 25 others, an increase over June, which saw 56 accidents and 49 deaths. There were, however, no statistics available on what percentage of the accidents involved older motorbikes.

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Tran Thanh Tra of the HCMC Traffic Police Department said that it is "the right time" to set an age limit for motorbikes, saying that older ones were responsible for many traffic accidents.

"Many old bikes have been modified or reassembled and have either no license plates or fake ones. In the case of many accidents, we have been unable to determine the motorbikes' owners," he told the media in a recent conference.

Tra said the police department will study the issue carefully before making its proposal on new guidelines for motorbikes.

Nguyen Ngoc Tuong, deputy chairman of the city traffic safety committee told Vietweek that the draft regulation will be submitted to the central government for approval.

Supporting the draft regulation, he said motorbikes more than 20 years old pose a high risk of causing accidents.

"Some bikes only have the basic parts: a frame, an engine and two wheels. The brakes are unsafe and there is basically no horn, because the noise from the engine drowns out the honking," he said.

Wide concerns

Although many officials said such a ban would be necessary for the sake of traffic safety, there are wide concerns among the poor who fear losing the only means by which they eke out their living.

Hai, a xe om driver at the corner of Cong Quynh and Nguyen Trai streets in District 1, said he has made ends meet with his old motorbike for the past eight years.

"I can earn between VND200,000 and VND300,00 (US$9.6-$15) a day. My bike is old but it is a Japanese one and is even better than some of the new Chinese ones due to good maintenance," he said.

Thanh, another xe om driver, said he has been using the same bike for the last 17 years to earn his living.

"It's right to ban old motorbikes because they cause pollution, but there should be careful considerations. Our country is still poor and we cannot force poor people like xe om and delivery drivers to buy new bikes," he said.

Meanwhile, experts said there should be regulations that require motorbikes to be assessed periodically based on criteria involving safety standards and pollution, rather than establishing a fixed upward age limit.

Duong Hong Thanh, deputy director of the HCMC Transport Department, said the most important criteria for any ban on old motorbikes should be the level of exhaust such vehicles emit.

"Many people have collect old bikes as a hobby. Their bikes should be allowed on the street if they meet such criteria," he said.

Nguyen Quang Toan, former dean of the Hanoi University of Transport's road transport department, said the authorities need to compile specific statistics on the negative impact of old motorbikes before banning them.

"Traffic accidents are not related to vehicles' age, because in fact old vehicles are only able to run at moderate speeds and therefore have fewer opportunities to cause accidents. Many, if not most accidents happened because of speeding, which only involve new vehicles," he added.

He said the draft regulation could drastically affect people too poor to afford new motorbikes.

"They are using old motorbikes to earn a living because they have no other choice. Therefore, to ban old motorbikes is inhumane. It would mean banning poor people from earning a living," he said.

Khuat Viet Hung of the Hanoi University of Transport urged for compulsory periodical assessments of motorbikes instead of issuing an expiration date.

"Such a ban would surely attract controversy and would be difficult to enforce," he said.

Nguyen Van Quynh, principal of the Transportation College No. 3, said it would be very difficult for relevant authorities to seize the massive number of old bikes in the city.

"The government should have a long-term plan to reduce motorbikes in major cities by investing in public transportation and by banning motorbikes from traveling on certain streets," he said.

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