Hanoi hits speed bump on road to motorbike-free city

By VnExpress   September 21, 2016 | 01:37 pm GMT+7
Hanoi hits speed bump on road to motorbike-free city
The rise of cars in Vietnam’s capital has exacerbated congestion issues on the streets. Photo by Reuters/ Nguyen Huy Kham

The buzz of motorbike engines could fade from the city by 2025.

Transport authorities in Hanoi have unveiled a three-step plan aimed at removing all motorbikes from the city's streets, initially in the central downtown area during peak hours, and later from suburban streets.

The city’s transport officials were quoted by the media as saying that there will also be a ban on non-residential vehicles driving on some main roads and in downtown areas, but this has met with opposition.

“When there is a motorbike ban in Hanoi, it will be an outright ban," said Ha Huy Quang, deputy head of Hanoi's Transport Department, adding that the plan is still on the table for further consideration. "There will be no discrimination between Hanoi locals and non-residents.” 

Opponents of the plan to remove motorbikes from the streets said the ban was currently unfeasible due mainly to undeveloped public transport in Hanoi.

Quang responded by saying that while motorcycles are being phased out, the city promises to improve public transport and infrastructure.

Hanoi will not restrict or ban the use of private vehicles until it can clear hurdles such as underdeveloped infrastructure, limited street space and insufficient public transport, Quang said.

Nguyen Van Thanh, chairman of the Car Transport Association, is among those in favor of the ban. Thanh said traffic congestion in Hanoi has become critical in recent years, so there should be a prompt solution.

However, the idea of imposing a ban on non-residential vehicles is hardly feasible because people will eventually find a way to circumvent the rule, for example, simply buying additional motorbikes with a Hanoi-registered license plate, he added.

Currently there are roughly 5 million motorbikes and scooters on Hanoi’s roads and the number of new vehicles is on the rise, exerting mounting pressure on the city’s infrastructure. Statistics show around 19,000 new vehicles are registered in the city each month, and it is estimated that by 2020, there will be more than 6 million motorbikes.

More noticeably, less than 10 percent of Hanoians use public transportation. The city’s only bus operator carried 5-6 percent less passengers during the first half of this year, said Nguyen Hoang Hai, head of the Hanoi Transport Management and Operation Center.

Ngo Van Du, living in the western urban area of My Dinh, is worried that the ban would make his commute to the inner city a struggle.

Public buses are cheap, but petrol to fill up a motorbike is even cheaper, he said. More importantly, poorly-run buses and worsening traffic congestion are making people stick with their vehicles rather than catch a bus to get around the city.

Although Hanoi has tried to improve traffic infrastructure and boost public transport, buses are still the city’s only transit option.

Hanoi has invested $55 million in a bus rapid transit line, known as a BRT. The installation of the BRT, however, has been anything but rapid.

The city’s urban rail projects, which started in 2011, have also been delayed several times. The official said that when the two elevated railway routes are completed in 2018, traffic in the city should improve.

Hanoi’s Transport Plan aims to increase the share of public transport from the current low figure of 9 percent of trips to above 60 percent by 2030, by which time Hanoi is slated to have five new elevated train lines and three BRT lines.

Motorbikes account for more than 90 percent of the traffic transport in Hanoi, which has a population of about 10 million.

Almost everyone has a motorbike to travel through the narrow streets and alleys, which are often too small to access by car, so it won't be easy to convince people to ditch their motorbikes and jump on a bus instead.

Bui Danh Lien, chairman of the Hanoi Transport Association, said the only way to talk people into leaving their vehicles at home is to have a well-developed public transport system.

“There is a long distance between talking and doing. The ban is totally based on a highly subjective point of view rather than facts,” said Lien.

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