Covid-19 hurts public bus service in HCMC

By Gia Minh   August 13, 2020 | 12:27 am PT
Covid-19 hurts public bus service in HCMC
Commuters ride a public bus in Ho Chi Minh City, April 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
Three months since social distancing measures were eased, 29 million commuters have utilized public bus services in HCMC, down 38 percent year-on-year.

Between April 28 and August 9, subsidized bus routes lured over 27 million, falling by 36 percent year-on-year while non-subsidized routes only reached about two million, down 56 percent, according to the latest statistics from the city’s Department of Transport.

The department blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for flailing demand, with most passengers scared of new coronavirus infection.

With a second wave of domestic infections hitting Vietnam since July 25, public buses services received another blow as Ho Chi Minh City called on its residents to remain home and banned gatherings of over 30 people.

Last Sunday, the number of bus passengers in the city only reached 173,000 a day, down 62 percent from a year ago, and 50 percent against the previous month.

HCMC has 128 operating bus routes. Of them, 91 are subsidized by the city.

On August 4, city authorities suspended some non-subsidized routes to neighboring Dong Nai Province after it recorded its first domestic infections, all linked to the Da Nang outbreak.

HCMC had suspended public bus services in April, when the nation entered weeks of social distancing as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The city allowed 72 routes to resume from May 4, requiring transportation firms and passengers to strictly follow Covid-19 safety protocols.

However, companies say they need to pay staff and service their debts during the social distancing period despite revenues plummeting.

Without the increase in subsidies, the transport department said it might have to cut 15 percent of bus trips in the last six months of the year.

The southern metropolis has been subsidizing its public bus system since 2002, increasing the amount each year, though bus services have not been able to gain a bigger market share. Experts have ascribed the problem to heavy congestion, poor quality services and increasing competition from ride-hailing services.

The number of bus passengers reached 305 million in 2012, but is forecast to fall to 159 million this year. This means after eight years and nearly VND10 trillion ($434 million) in subsidies, the number of passengers will have fallen by 48 percent.

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