HCMC seeks to revive public buses with new operators

By Ha An, Ha Giang, Huu Nguyen   July 9, 2020 | 09:02 pm PT
HCMC seeks to revive public buses with new operators
A bus stuck in traffic in Ho Chi Minh City on July 9, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
HCMC plans to invite bids for 45 bus routes with new criteria for service quality as it seeks to revive usage of public transport.

The bidding process will get underway in the third quarter, with requirements including operators to replace their buses every five years, operate punctually and keep the vehicles clean, Le Hoan, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Management Centre of Public Transport (MCPT), said at a press briefing on Thursday.

There would be a scoring system, and the city would cut subsidies for operators not having high scores, he added.

The 45 routes include both existing and new ones. Existing operators could lose their contracts if the city finds replacements for them meeting its new criteria.

This is the latest effort by Vietnam’s largest city and commercial hub to improve its only mean of public transport, which in recent years has seen a decline in the number of passengers with many saying buses are unclean and late and routes are inconvenient for daily use.

This year the number of passengers is set to fall by 48 percent to 159 million from 305 million in 2012. Mounting losses also means the number of routes have shrunk from 150 to 128 now.

Of the 128 routes, 91 are subsidized by the city.

Although the subsidies have risen by 24 percent since 2018 to VND1.3 trillion ($56 million) this year, the 12 operators have complained the money is not enough.

One of the companies, Thanh Son Transport and Tourism Company, said to operate on a route it needs to pay VND1.3 million ($56) a day for gas and salaries, or 39 million ($1,675) a month, but gets only VND5 million a month from the city.

Nguyen Van Leo, CEO of Saigon Transport Agency Jsc, said his company and others have run out of money and are struggling to survive due to the low amount of subsidy.

City authorities have tried over the years to find ways to improve bus services, but there have been no major changes.

Officials say that since 70 percent of the city’s roads are five meters wide or less, it is difficult to drive buses especially amid the rising number of personal vehicles.

Another challenge comes from ride-hailing services. The city estimates that the number of passengers using ride-hailing services surged nine times to 191 million between 2016 and last year, indicating to whom buses are losing market share.

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