District officials uneasy about Ho Chi Minh City plan to clear sidewalks

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District-level officials in Ho Chi Minh City fear that a recent proposal to clear many sidewalks of small businesses and stop parking on sidewalks and on certain roads will leave motorbike and car owners in the lurch and many small traders without a livelihood.

A report on Saigon Tiep Thi Monday said the city Department of Transport has recommended that the city should ban parking and running of businesses like coffee shops and others on sidewalks in more than half of the 345 streets where they had been allowed since 2009.

The initiative is aimed at easing traffic congestion.

But district officials want the department to come up with better and more detailed plans on how to apply it, the newspaper said.

It quoted Nguyen The Dinh, chairman of Nguyen Thai Binh Ward in District 1, as saying that he will support the proposal only if it is more comprehensive.

"It is impossible to ban all the businesses immediately because it will be difficult to convince people," he said.

He pointed out that there is a pressing need for parking space since the government has yet to build proper parking lots even as the number of vehicles is increasing every day.

If they are not allowed to park along curbs by paying a fee as allowed in 2009, they would have nowhere to go, he stressed.

Besides, if the People's Committee implements the plan immediately, the fees collected for parking would be lost and not be available for spending on building parking lots and widening roads, he said.

It would also be a problem providing new jobs to people working as attendants at these parking places, he said.

Under the proposal, his ward would have to remove cars from 10 streets, the newspaper reported.

Luu Trung Hoa, deputy chairman of the District 1 People's Committee, agreed, saying the city needs to make necessary preparations like building proper parking lots before issuing the ban.

"Once we have parking lots in place, people will accept the ban," he added.

Huynh Thi Thao, chairman of District 5, where 31 streets will have to take vehicles of curbs and sidewalks, said many studies found that it would be hard for people if the ban took everywhere at the same time.

Local governments would not be able to handle the resultant chaos if the city did not provide alternative sites for people to park vehicles and run businesses before imposing the ban.

Besides, people would begin to do them illegally like before, evading pavements and making it much harder to oversee them.

"To ban businesses on all sidewalks is unscientific and will surely cause adverse effects," Nguyen Huu Nguyen of the Center for Southern Economic Research said, adding that without flexibility the plan would fail.

He called for conducting studies to see if there are any streets where businesses do not cause problems, adding they should be allowed to continue with the arrangement.

Nguyen Ngoc Thanh, who owns a restaurant on Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1, said since the city allowed parts of sidewalks to be used for parking and doing business, everyone scrupulously follows the restrictions, with no one parking their vehicles or doing businesses except in areas demarcated by yellow lines.

"But the authorities still plan to prohibit us from doing businesses. Then we really don't know where to park vehicles or run our business."

Nguyen Van Ca, who runs a street café in District 5, said his six-member family relies on the business.

"If the authorities ban doing business on the pavement, I don't know how our family will survive because neither my wife nor I is educated or skilled at anything else," Ca said.

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