Toll on cars in downtown HCMC not workable

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Experts have opposed a plan to levy a special toll on cars in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, saying it won't help improve traffic situation.

The proposed fees are also too high, they argue.

Nguyen Minh Dong, a traffic expert from Germany, said it's unreasonable to charge car users US$2 every time they enter the city center, considering highway toll fees in the US are only 80 cents.

There are 400,000 cars in the city, not including 12,000 taxies, which means the toll collection will be huge, he said.

Do Van Dung, deputy chairman of HCMC University of Technical Education, said if toll fees are set too low, they will not be able to change traffic behavior.

But if the fees are too high, it will be unfair for car users, especially when local traffic infrastructure is still far from perfect, Dung said.

"The greatest concern is whether the toll fee collection will be successful in reducing traffic jams or will it only benefit certain businesses."

HCMC-based Innovative Technology Development Corp. and UK-based consultancy firm WSP Group have been authorized to set up an Electronic Road Pricing system to help ease traffic congestion in the city.

According to their proposal, a boundary would be drawn around the city center to create a toll collection area. Cars entering the area from outside would have to pay toll fees.

Consultants said they are considering the size of the toll collection area as well as a smaller toll area inside the first boundary to include more cars. The final plan is set to be submitted to the city government in April.

Electronic Road Pricing is a traffic management solution that has been applied in Singapore. Tolls are collected automatically from devices called on-board units which are installed in cars.

WSP said the fees at $2 per time will help cut the ratio of car use in the city from 9 percent to 7.5 percent and increase the average speed to 27 kilometers per hour from the current 19 kilometers per hour.

But Dung said he doubted these estimates. The statistics used by WSP did not come from any reliable source, he claimed.

Even if the toll collection system can force some people to stop using cars, they will just switch to motorbikes instead of public buses, he said. torbikes instead of public transport

The consultants themselves said they didn't have an "optimal" plan but they still wanted to collect toll fees, said Phan Phung Sanh, vice chairman of HCMC Association of Construction Science and Technology.

Even the consultants know that their options may end up creating traffic gridlocks at new places, he asserted.

"It's just like you can foresee failure but you insist on jumping in anyway," Sanh said.

The HCMC administration considered in 2008 imposing an annual traffic fee of VND10 million ($530) on cars with less than seven seats in the city. The proposal was rejected by the Finance Ministry.

The city was allowed to study and select a suitable system to collect car tolls early this year.

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