Vietnam considers banning motorbikes in big cities

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Is the idea as crazy as it sounds? The country's traffic problems certainly are"¦

Motorbikes on a street in downtown Hanoi. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is pushing for a gradual ban on motorbikes in big cities. PHOTO: REUTERS

After two years of implementing a government resolution on traffic safety, traffic accidents still kill 26 people and injure 81 others every day.

With traffic safety not improving significantly, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is pushing to impose a motorbike ban in major cities. The idea has been proposed by several experts and has been met by an equal amount of opposition.

At a meeting to review the resolution, Phuc said traffic safety remains an "extremely complicated" issue despite many efforts from central and local agencies.

"There should be detailed and breakthrough solutions, including a plan to gradually ban motorbikes in big cities," he said, adding that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City should improve public transport and limit the number of private vehicles in the cities.

Vietnam has more than 37 million motorbikes and 1.6 million cars. Among the population of 90 million, most adults use motorbikes as the most common means of transport.

So far this year, traffic accidents have killed 7,812 people and injured more than 24,300 others nationwide, according to the National Traffic Safety Committee (NTSC). The number of people killed in traffic accidents this year is already 123 higher than last year's total.

If Yangoon can do it...

Over the past weeks, VTC News has published articles by economist Luong Hoai Nam, CEO of Air Mekong, that have criticized the government for not banning motorbikes in big cities.

Nam said the NTSC proposed the ban two years ago, but the transport ministry announced that there would be no such plan due to public opposition.

"Avoiding a reconsideration of the ban will hinder development and elongate the danger of traffic and poverty," he said.

Nam said public transport such as buses and trains needed to be improved.

He said the idea was theoretically reasonable but argued that it would be unfeasible in reality to develop more public transport before banning motorbikes.

"Yangon banned motorbikes because it was able to resolve transport demands despite the fact that its bus system is not so good," he said.

Banning motorbikes would also contribute to curbing air pollution and closing unhygienic roadside eateries, he said.

"Leave modern and civilized urban areas with safer and cleaner traffic system for future generations," he said.

There appears to be less opposition to the idea than there was when it was first proposed 2 years ago.

A survey on VTC News attracted more than 27,000 respondents, 54 percent of which selected "there should be a plan to ban motorbikes now." Some 31 percent chose "only ban motorbikes when there are alternative means of transport" and only 14 percent opposed the ban outright.

Criminal inaction

Nam said the victims of fatal traffic accidents are mostly motorbike drivers: "We are guilty for that as long as motorbikes remain a dominant means of transport."

He criticized relevant agencies for being sluggish in implementing traffic safety projects and achieving traffic safety targets.

"Tragic deaths on the street every day. Do something! What are you waiting for?" he said.

He said a motorbike ban in big cities would attract foreign and private investment in public transport.

"It is estimated that Vietnamese people spend about US$5 billion a year on motorbike purchases, repairs and gasoline. It is a significant amount as the country's GDP is about $130 billion.

"Shifting from motorbikes to public transport will also save money besides improving traffic safety and protecting the environment," he said.

Flimsy feasibility

The idea of banning motorbikes in big cities has prompted wide controversies because it will affect most families in Vietnam.

Nguyen Van Thu, former director of Transport Planning and Management, said people should not think about banning motorbike in the near future.

"Banning motorbike is a right step towards limiting private vehicles. But it should be done in the distant future. It is just like a supplementary food, it can cause shock if you use too much in a short time," he said.

Thu said Vietnam's big cities should reorganize traffic infrastructure more logically to avoid motorbike congestion while improving public transport systems before banning motorbikes.

Nguyen Hoang Hiep, deputy chairman of NTSC, said it would be impossible to ban motorbikes quickly.

"It is impossible because of undeveloped economics, lack of infrastructure and insufficient public transport," he said.

According to Hiep, 2020-2025 would be the right time to ban motorbikes in big cities if Vietnam begins to improve public transport infrastructure from now on.

Late urban zoning and tiny alleys that are accessible only by motorbikes are problems that could take a long time to fix.

Former transport minister Ho Nghia Dung also said that tackling motorbike problems was a tough job that could take several decades.

He said the motorbike boom was not a totally negative development alongside economic growth and undeveloped infrastructure.

"Motorbikes are still contributing to social development, solving the basic demands of many residents," he said. "But the excessive growth of motorbikes in the country has caused more accidents and gridlocks."

"Motorbikes are still necessary for everyone in Vietnam," he said, adding that he couldn't say when would be the right time for Vietnam to ban motorbikes in big cities.

The fact is millions of people rely on motorbikes every day, and have done so for decades.

But Nguyen Hoang Tien of the Hanoi Bar Association said he thought that wasn't a big problem. He said that people all know the relevant risks and harms of riding a motorbike, such as traffic accidents and air pollution.

"When public transport is convenient enough, no one will be so stupid as to face these risks."

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