Vietnam looks to end gridlock with public bicycles

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But better public transit also needed to solve congestion problems, experts say


Foreign tourists riding bicycles through Hoi An Town in the central province of Quang Nam. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has instructed big cities to provide public bicycle services in city centers as a step towards limiting personal vehicles and avoid severe traffic jams. Photo by Diep Duc Minh

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has instructed major cities to supply public bicycle services and reduce the number of personal vehicles clogging commercial centers after a number of proposals have been deemed infeasible.

According to an instruction issued on January 27, Dung ordered authorities in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Phong, Da Nang and Can Tho to facilitate transport infrastructure projects and strictly monitor the growth of personal vehicles.

The cities must now draft plans to limit the use of personal vehicles and encourage residents to use public transport systems.

All plans must be implemented by the third quarter of this year, according to the instruction.

The instruction aims at limiting the number of motorbikes in city centers as the vehicles are considered the main culprits responsible for Vietnam’s worsening traffic issues.

Khuat Viet Hung, an expert with the Hanoi-based  University of Transport, said some private companies were willing to invest in public bicycle services.

“Residents and tourists will pay small fees to rent the bicycles that are managed by modern technology,” he said.

However, Hung said many people are concerned about where the services will be located and a lack of bicycle lanes.

Some are concerned that bicycles are an old means of transport that also cause traffic congestion, he said.

“But we just offer another public means of transport and encourage the use of the service. We are not forcing everyone to use bicycles,” he said.

Gridlock’d

Rapid urbanization has outpaced transport infrastructure development, making traffic a major problem in Vietnam, especially in big cities.

Vietnam had more than 37 million motorbikes in 2013, a million more than what had been expected for 2020, in addition to more than 2 million personal cars. The number of motorbikes is increasing by 17 percent annually in Hanoi and 15 percent in HCMC.

In 2010, HCMC authorities ordered Tien Phong Corporation to study a VND1.2 trillion (US$57 million) project to build 35 automatic toll stations at the entrances to the city center in a bid to limit the number of personal vehicles used there.

However, the project was not carried out after it attracted wide criticism over its feasibility.

Many relevant agencies have also proposed banning motorbikes in city centers, but the controversial proposals have faced strong criticism.

Last November, the transport ministry proposed a plan to the government with several solutions to reduce the number of personal vehicles in major city centers.

Among the proposals is one that would increase parking fees and apply new fees for driving in the city center.

The ambitious plan aims to reduce the proportion of personal vehicles in city centers from the current 80 percent to 55 percent by 2020.

Hung, the transport expert, said many experts are concerned that the targets are too high to achieve as current public transport systems only have the capacity to serve 25 percent of transport demand.

If the proposal is approved, the owners of cars and motorbikes will have to pay more than ten taxes and fees for each vehicle.

According to a transport expert who wanted to remain anonymous, the owner of an imported car would have to pay an import tax, a special consumption tax, a value added tax, technical safety and environment protection registration fees, a car registration fee, a license plate fee, environment protection fees via gasoline purchases, a “transport” fee and others.

However, experts said most people would suffer the taxes and fees instead of abandoning their personal vehicles.

Ineffectual?

Phan Phung Sanh, deputy chairman of HCMC Construction Science and Technology, said high fees will not affect a decision to buy a car as most car buyers are rich and can afford them.

Meanwhile, other people will continue traveling by their motorbikes for convenience, he said.

“Thus, charging more fees will not reduce traffic gridlocks but only increase the burden on residents,” he told Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper.

Nguyen Quang Toan, a lecturer at the Hanoi’s University of Transport, said there should be alternative means of transport like trams and express bus lines.

“Only when public means of transport serve 40-50 percent of the demand will it be the right time to urge people to abandon personal vehicles,” he said.

Ngo Viet Nam Son, chairman of NgoViet Architects and Planners company, said there should be a long term plan for limiting and banning motorbikes in cities.

“Transport systems should be re-planned together with infrastructure development,” he said.

“For example, when it takes 5-10 minutes for a person to reach the city center from nearby areas, a bus should only take 15 minutes, instead of [the current] one hour,” he said.

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