Experts slam southern city's new traffic plan

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Experts say a proposal to restrict the number of cars in Ho Chi Minh City's downtown area by having those with odd or even numbers enter it on different weekdays is impractical.


The proposal, made by the local transportation department, aims to reduce traffic jams as well as pollution from exhaust fumes.


Under the proposal announced at a recent meeting on finding solutions to traffic problems, all cars will be allowed to enter the downtown area on Sunday, while cars with "even" number plates can do so on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and others on Tuesday, Thursday, and Wednesday.


The department suggested that the last digit in a car's number plate be used to designate even and odd numbered vehicles.


Accordingly, cars with number plates ending with 1,3,5,7, and 9 will be classified as "odd" and the others will be "even."


The proposed regulation will only target personal cars, the department said.


Nguyen Minh Dong, a Vietnamese German traffic specialist, said decreasing the number of cars does not mean pollution will go down, because although cars emit a huge amount of exhaust fumes, they are less toxic than that of motorbikes.


In fact, in HCMC as well as Vietnam in general, most motorbikes either don't have exhaust gas filters or would fail certain international standards, like European ones, on exhaust  emissions, he said.


Meanwhile, most cars have better exhaust gas management systems that meet international standards to a certain extent, he added.


The transport department's proposal is not only difficult to implement, but will complicate the city's traffic conditions further, Dong felt.


Agreeing with Dong, Dr. Phung Manh Tien of the Institute of Transport Science and Technology's southern branch, said to set up a regulation is one thing, but to apply it is another.


It would not be possible for traffic officers to keep their eyes on each car's number plate to detect and fine violators in accordance with the "odd-even" regulation, Tien said.


In the absence of automatic systems allowing not-in-real-time punishments, traffic cops would have to stop violating cars for fining them, causing worse traffic chaos when a large number of vehicles are using the roads, he said.  


Furthermore, car drivers will will likely turn to other districts on the prohibited days. like districts 5, 10, Binh Thanh, and Phu Nhuan, which already suffer from critical traffic jams, Tien said.


There is also the chance that people will ride motorbikes or buy more cars with different number plates to be able to enter the center no matter which day of the week it is, he added.


Worse still, they may buy old cars which already have number plates to choose the ones they need, so in the end, neither the number of cars nor the amount of exhaust fumes will decrease, he said.


Tien conceded that more cars will worsen the traffic situation, given the paucity of parking lots in the city, and they are likely to park on the streets, creating several bottlenecks.


Tien also said the proposed regulation could generate disputes over the border between suburban and central areas which is very "thin" and vague.


Adjustments needed 


In the meantime, lawyer Bui Quang Nghiem, vice chairman of HCMC Bar Association, said Vietnamese laws guarantee people's right to use their properties as long as they don't commit violations and the proposed regulation would contravene it.


"In fact, in Vietnam people have to buy cars at prices much higher than elsewhere in the world and pay all necessary taxes and fees, so there's no reason their right of using cars should be restricted," Nghiem said.


"The proposed regulation allows people to use cars on even or odd days, meaning that their use time is halved, so will taxes on cars  be decreased accordingly?"


More specific regulations and adjustments to current laws are needed before applying the proposal, the lawyer said


Dong also suggested local officials make plans to organize a more effective traffic system their priority, instead of restricting people's use of their own vehicles.


Lawyer Le Hieu Dang, a senior offical of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee, also called for long-term planning.


Citing Hanoi's heavily-criticized plan to restrict the traffic of motorbikes based on the same method, Dang said HCMC needs to strengthen currently available solutions like expanding roads instead of coming up with new but impossible solutions.


"Once infrastructure and public transport networks become more effective, people will voluntarily abandon personal vehicles without prohibitions," Dang said.


Last year the southern metro's plan to place an extra toll on cars also drew flak from experts who dismissed it as unreasonable and impossible.


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