Public buses fall out of public favor in Saigon

By Huu Nguyen   November 16, 2019 | 07:29 pm PT
Public buses fall out of public favor in Saigon
A pubic bus conductor checks the traffic that her vehicle is jammed in, Ho Chi Minh City, September 2, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
As fewer people in HCMC choose public buses for their regular commute, the service worsens and more commuters drop off.

This sorry state of public transportation in HCMC was highlighted at a city meeting Friday.

More than 131 million people boarded public buses in the first eight months this year, down 13.2 percent over 2018, and meeting just 51 percent of this year’s target, officials said at the meeting.

The city spends around VND1 trillion ($43 million) subsidizing bus operators each year, but they continue to report losses because the number of passengers has been falling.

When they suffer losses, bus companies cut the number of trips they operate each day, resulting in more customers walking away because their needs are not met, said Tong Thi Thu Thanh, representative of the Quyet Thang Transport Bus Cooperative, which operates 136 out of around 3,000 buses in the city.

"Even college students, the majority of bus passengers, are not using buses as much as before and the bus route designed particularly for office workers in Districts 1 and 2 have failed to attract customers," she added.

Le Nguyen Minh Quang, a city legislator, said people are not choosing buses because the service has not improved in several aspects, including the quality of buses and their staff.

Theft and pickpocketing is still a common story among bus passengers and heavy traffic jams prevent bus passengers to reach their destinations in time, Quang said.

On the other hand, bus drivers and staff are laboring under a lot of stress because their heavy work schedule, traffic congestion and other factors. For this they are not compensated with sufficient salary and perks, he added.

Tran Quang Lam, director of HCMC Transport Department, said traffic congestion was the main reason that residents found public buses unattractive.

He said that in the first seven months this year, 330,000 bus routes were late by more than 15 minutes.

The strong development of ride hailing services in the city was another factor for public buses becoming less popular, Lam said.

"Passengers tend to opt for this service for short distances as it is more convenient, faster and the cost is not much higher than a bus ticket," he said.

In 2016, the ride-hailing sector lured 20.8 million turns of passengers but the figure has climbed to 191 million so far this year, his department estimates, Lam said.

The current traffic infrastructure in the city with a shortage of bus stops was yet another factor cited at the meeting.

Solution suggestions

Legislator Vo Thi Ngoc Thuy suggested that the city offers subsidies for bus operators based on what they generate, as an incentive.

The city would pay the subsidy based on the number of passengers bus companies serve and the number of routes they operate. It would also make the payments per quarter instead of per year. Companies that perform better would receive higher payments, she said, adding that this would generate competition and motivation for improved services.

She also suggested that the city focuses more on short routes in downtown areas to lure office workers and tourists.

Bus driver Tran Van Hung said the city should do a better job in disseminating specific information on each bus route on different channels so that city residents can easily make a suitable choice.

He said it was necessary to press more buses into service so that drivers are not pressurized to return as fast as they can so that they would not miss the next trip’s schedule, which would directly affect their remuneration, he said.

Transport department director Lam said the city will consider designing a separate lane for buses and finding a more effective subsidy solution for bus operators.

The city once considered cutting subsidies, but that would mean higher ticket prices, which would worsen the situation he said.

He said the city, currently home to 13 million including migrants, still treats the bus as a priority for improving its public transportation and reducing its chronic traffic gridlocks.

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