Cars with five to seven seats are the main instigators of traffic jams and accidents in Vietnam, according to Khuat Viet Hung, head of the Department of Transport Planning and Management at the University of Transport, who tells Thanh Nien Weekly that reducing the number of large vehicles is just a first albeit important step in the war against traffic problems.
Thanh Nien Weekly: The government plans to limit the use of motorbikes on some streets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. What are your opinions on the issue?
Khuat Viet Hung: I advocate the plan to monitor the use of individual vehicles, including motorbikes. The cause of all the traffic jams and traffic accidents is the saturation and incorrect usage of individual means of transport.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are now studying the plan that will manage and monitor both cars and motorbikes. We should put top priority on managing the use of individual cars, especially during peak traffic hours and on main roads leading in and out of downtown. We should take both administrative and technical measures to deal with the issue.
We should manage the problem using market principles. The acreage of urban roads and car parks needs to be considered against supply, which is limited. The cost for the use of roads and parking lots in different areas should be different. For example, the cost of parking and traveling downtown and at peak hours should be higher than those in the suburbs and normal hours.
We should closely manage parking, defining which areas could offer very high prices for parking during peak hours. For example, we should establish high fees for parking on Hanoi's historic streets and in downtown areas. If parking is well managed, the use of cars will be reduced remarkably.
The measure could also be taken for motorbikes. A great number of people will travel by motorbikes or public transport instead of individual cars. The less use of personal cars will help raise the capacity of our infrastructure, and could reduce traffic jams.
Are motorbikes the main perpetrator of traffic jams and traffic accidents?
No, not entirely. Hanoi now has nearly 400,000 cars, and some four million motorbikes. The number of cars is only one tenth the number of motorbikes, but cars use 55 percent of the road space and 65 percent of all parking space during peak hours. So cars are actually the main perpetrators of traffic jams.
If we reduced the number of motorbikes for environmental protection purposes, then I support it. If that's the case, environmentally-friendly means of transport such as bicycles should be used.
Could buses meet the travel demands of local people if we limit the individual means of transport?
Limiting individual means of transport does not mean strictly prohibiting them. We only manage and monitor them, especially cars"¦ Buses should be environmentally-friendly too, meeting the Euro 4 emission standard. If we do this, we could help increase our infrastructure capacity by 5-10 percent, and traffic jams will not be as frequent. In addition, it is necessary to raise public awareness of the issues involved here.
What can Hanoi and HCMC do now to reduce traffic jams and traffic accidents?
We should collect fees for cars with five to seven seats traveling in the inner city. It is easy to monitor cars because there are few of them and they have both front and rear number plates. The aim is not to collect money, but reduce the use of cars.
In rush hours, traffic jams would decrease dramatically if we had just an extra 5 percent of road capacity. If the usage of cars goes down by 10-15 percent, the surplus road acreage will be 5-10 percent. This is the measure that should be taken strictly and early.
In addition, we should divide driving lanes better. We should also increase the ridership of public means of transport. According to our survey, there are 144 bus routes in the center of Hanoi. However, up to 114 routes see buses running under their capacity, so their operations should be improved. An increase in parking fees could encourage people to make the switch to public transport.
It is necessary to enable pedestrians to walk on the sidewalks, many of which are occupied for parking and commerce. This could increase the ability of local residents to access public transport.
At a meeting early this week, Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang said he plans to propose an adjustment in working hours to reduce traffic jams. Working hours of central agencies will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. How do you think about this proposal?
The proposal is feasible. It should be implemented in Hanoi and some other places to reduce traffic jams.