Experts warn against Hanoi motorbike ban, say public transport not good enough

By Doan Loan, Ba Do   March 16, 2019 | 05:08 pm PT
Experts warn against Hanoi motorbike ban, say public transport not good enough
Traffic on Nguyen Trai Street which is being considered for Hanoi's motorbike restriction trial. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Son
Experts are lukewarm to the idea of banning motorbikes in downtown Hanoi, and point to the inadequacy of the city’s public transport.

Hanoi is planning to trial a ban first on two streets, Nguyen Trai and Le Van Luong, which run parallel to each other in Thanh Xuan District, west of the center, as the first step in its plan to restrict and then gradually prohibit motorbikes in the downtown area by 2030.

The director of the city Department of Transport, Vu Van Vien, said the two streets, through which the Cat Linh-Ha Dong metro line and a bus rapid transit (BRT) route run, are potential candidates.

But transport experts and insiders were unhappy with even the pilot ban, saying public transport is yet to meet the demands of Hanoians and cars too are a cause of traffic jams.

Bui Danh Lien, vice chairman of the Vietnam Automobile Transportation Association (VATA), said public transport serving the two streets is "not enough."

The normal bus service and the BRT are not "well connected" and their patronage is low while it is too soon to tell if the Cat Linh-Ha Dong metro, which is expected to begin commercial operations next month, would be adequate.

"Buses on these two streets only meet 15-20 percent of demand and so the motorbike restriction plan is not feasible. People will simply move from these two routes to others, and the downtown cannot be freed of traffic jams.

"I think Hanoi should only pilot the plan in 2025 when its public transport service has been improved."

If the city plans to ban motorbikes, it should also impose a charge on cars as well and not just motorbikes, Lien said.

A temporary solution to reduce traffic jams on Le Van Luong and Nguyen Trai now involves the use of mobile median strips to widen the road in the direction of downtown in the morning and the opposite direction in the evening.

State agencies should also encourage their staff to switch to buses instead of using their private vehicles, he suggested.

Khuong Kim Tao, former deputy chief of staff of the National Traffic Safety Committee, said the BRT and normal bus routes are currently not connected, and so they cannot be a perfect replacement for motorbikes.

Minh, a local who drives his motorbike to work every day through Le Van Luong Street, said if the ban comes executed, "it will be very inconvenient and cost me a lot more time to go to work because I will have to catch more than one bus."

Dinh Thi Thanh Binh, a lecturer at the University of Transport and Communications, said: "The public transport system in Hanoi is like a half-done painting and has yet to cover the city's major routes and ring roads."

Besides, most people do not only travel between home and work every day but also elsewhere, like for picking up their kids from school, shopping and other personal things, she said.

She suggested the city should limit motorbikes by hours and ensure there are dedicated lanes for motorbikes during rush hour.

At a meeting in 2017 the city council passed a resolution on traffic management which included banning motorbikes in downtown Hanoi and boosting public transport by 2030.

"The sooner Hanoi can ban motorbikes, the better," transport department director Vien said at a meeting last weekend with city leaders.

The department is working with the transport ministry’s Transport Development and Strategy Institute to develop the plan which would also include a halt to licensing of new motorbikes.

The other option they are considering is slapping a fee on vehicles entering the inner city.

The two options will be submitted to the city administration and legislature later this year before they are sent to the government and National Assembly.

With more than 7.5 million people, the capital city has 5.2 million motorbikes and around 550,000 cars, besides some 1.2 million bikes brought by immigrants, according to police figures.

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