Motorbikes will persist until Vietnam metro offers real public transit option: experts

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Traffic moves along in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: Bloomberg Traffic moves along in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: Bloomberg

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International experts attending the recent Asia Public Policy Forum in Ho Chi Minh City this month estimated that the town would continue to rely on motorbikes for at least a couple more decades despite having some of Asia’ worst traffic.
During this year's forum, experts agreed that effective traffic organization remains a difficult task in fast-growing cities in Asia, particularly Bangkok, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City.
Prof Danang Parikesit of Gadjah Mada University (one of the biggest in Indonesia) said motorbikes would continue to be used as a means of transportation in HCMC, as well as Bangkok and Jakarta for the next 20 years.
In the best case scenario, the bikes will remain nothing but a means for connecting people to public transportation stations--as you see in Bangkok.
The HCMC forum is organized by the Indonesia Program at the Kennedy Public Policy School of Harvard University and the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program which trains academics and analyzes public polices in HCMC.
Figures released last February showed that more than 39 million motorbikes have been registered in the country, over three million more than the amount a government plan envisaged for 2020, most in HCMC and Hanoi.
The vehicle is a major cause of traffic accidents and pollution
Prof Jose Antonio Gomez, an urban planning and public policy expert from Harvard, said the three cities face the inevitable challenge posed by urban development:  rising travel demands.
He said the average travel length of each urban individual is increasing and the people are increasingly using motor vehicles rather than bicycles or walking.
So the transport infrastructure needs to follow suit, meaning there should be public railways and expressways, as well as better management of personal vehicles.
Experts said city governments usually fail to carefully consider their budgets and circumstances and tend to rush toward the latest public transport systems available--which can be costly and open doors for corruption.
Huynh The Du, a Vietnamese lecturer at the Fulbright program and post-doctoral researcher at Harvard, said public transport projects should start now, or the gridlock in the Vietnam city will soon get worse as commuters switch from motorbikes to cars.
Prof Cheng Min Feng from the Taiwan National Chiao Tung (Transport) University said that when the public transportation system serves people well, it can change their travel habits.
He said 80 percent people own motorbikes in Taipei but less people use them as the public transport system has improved.
Many experts rejected proposals that HCMC attempt to ban motorbikes, saying it  wouldn't be fair or even practical.
Feng said the government can only take away something from people after giving them something else, which in this case is proper public transportation.
Jakarta has imposed more fees and taxes on motorbikes to contain their purchase.

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