HCMC motorbike ban won't work: traffic experts

By Hung Le   March 3, 2019 | 05:00 pm PT
HCMC motorbike ban won't work: traffic experts
Motorbikes are seen on a road in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
HCMC’s plan to ban motorbikes from the city centre will not work, given inadequate public transport and asynchronous planning.

"The plan to charge cars and remove motorbikes from downtown HCMC by 2025-2030 in order to resolve the city’s congestion crisis is not feasible," Ngo Viet Nam Son, traffic expert and CEO of Ngo Viet Design Consultant Company told VnExpress International.

According to the draft proposal, which has just been submitted to the HCMC Fatherland Front Committee by the city's transport department, HCMC plans to limit the number of motorbikes from 2021-2025, and ban them completely in districts 1, 3, 5 and 10 from 2025 onwards.

The city also proposes to charge cars entering its central area, as well as impose technical safety and environmental standards, including imposing an "environmental tax" aimed at limiting the number of cars entering the city centre.

The plan expects to replace 29.3 – 36.8 percent of the city’s traffic needs with public transport by 2030 in three phases over a decade.

"The numbers given by the proposal speak for themselves," said Son. "The only way the ban would work is when public transport can satisfy at least 80 percent of travel demands, given that vast majority of HCMC residents rely on personal vehicles to get to work every day."

Department figures show that by August 2017, HCMC had nearly eight million vehicles, including 7.3 million motorbikes, with the number of vehicles expected to rise by 30,000 a month.

The motorbike ban has been mooted and rehashed several times in the past few years, and has always met with strong opposition from experts and the public, as it targets the country’s most popular means of transport.

Legal and transportation experts have since railed against the ban, calling it "hasty" and "impossible," given the current state of public transport.

Some said the ban has no legal grounds and would put Vietnam at odds with the rest of the world, since people are free to drive motorbikes in most countries.

Motorbike culture

One of the biggest problems, Son said, is the fact that traffic planning needs to go hand in hand with urban planning, while evidence shows there is little coordination between the two.

"Public transport projects are not suitable for every neighborhood. For instance, metro and bus systems will be great in the newer urban areas, where the city has built wide roads and high-rise apartment complexes. However, in older parts of the city interlaced with narrow streets and alleyways that cannot even be accessed by car, motorbikes are the only effective option."

Another issue is that economic efficiency, for both public transport operators and citizens, is not guaranteed at the level of planning the city is seeing now.

Further, the architect added, HCMC already has a large network of buses, but because of poor market research, some are always overcrowded while others have to be perennially subsidised, causing a strain on the city budget.

"If the bus routes do not meet citizens’ travel demands, people are not going to use public transport, however safe they may be," he warned.

Nguyen Le Ninh, a member of HCMC’s Scientific, Technical, and Environmental Advisory Council, noted that 44 percent of people who use 2-3 wheeled vehicles to make a living come from outside HCMC. Of these, 43 percent are street vendors and 55 percent are mobile merchants.

These people will require small motorbikes to move their merchandise, because public transport cannot meet their requirements.

"In order to limit the number of private vehicles in the city, there is no other solution than to reorganise society synchronously, from urban planning, positioning of industrial zones and accommodation, as well as changing the way citizens make a living in ways that adapts to public transport," he told local media.

Son suggested that public transportation should be implemented in newer areas that are suitable, and congestion solutions should be tailored for each individual district of HCMC.

However, it is paramount that these project coordinate closely with urban plans, and that city officials research transport demands and population movements within the city thoroughly before implementation, he said.

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