Vietnam's largest bus station desolate for Tet

By Gia Minh   February 2, 2024 | 10:01 pm PT
Vietnam's largest bus station desolate for Tet
People wait on National Highway 1 to catch passenger buses in Thu Duc City, January 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh
Mien Dong Bus Station's modern facilities have failed to attract customers this holiday season as passengers opt for rides that pick them up randomly at roadside locations nearer home.

Instead of using the comfortable and clean amenities at Ho Chi Minh City's new station, which is the country's largest but is also located on the city's outskirts far from downtown, travelers are waiting at gas stations and roadside stops to hail rides – impromptu-no-reservation-style – from various passing vehicles: unofficial busses, coaches, vans and mini vans.

An afternoon in late January, Bui Diem, a 35-year-old factory worker in Thu Duc City, and her sister took a taxi to National Highway 1, near the Linh Xuan intersection, to catch a bus back to their hometown in Binh Dinh Province, central Vietnam.

They had booked sleeper tickets from a company named Thanh Long more than a month ago, but they did not know the fare since after finalizing the bookings, the company asked them to wait at the above location to board the bus and then make the payment once on board.

"The normal fare from HCMC to Binh Dinh is about VND400,000 (US$16.32), and during the Tet holiday, it may double, but still we accept that because the bus drops us close to our home and it's convenient to catch," Diem said.

She noted that even though the fare is higher than those sold at counters inside the new Mien Dong (southeastern region) Bus Station, "the inconvenience of booking a sleeper bus for the same route" deters her from buying tickets there, explaining that the other option would require her to travel a long way to the station to buy a ticket and wait in the terminal to get into a sleeper bus.

Like Diem, Nguyen Khanh, a 25-year-old worker in the Song Than Industrial Park in Binh Duong Province that borders HCMC, also went to National Highway 1 to catch a bus back home in the central province of Quang Ngai.

He did not book in advance, and decided he would hop on any sleeper bus that stopped to pick him up on its way to Quang Ngai.

"I'm going home alone with little luggage, so I don't need much preparation. Instead of spending time and extra money on a trip to the Mien Dong Bus Station, catching a bus here is more convenient," he said.

With a total investment of more than VND4 trillion (over $174 million), the new Mien Dong bus terminal covers an area of 16 hectares in Thu Duc City near Binh Duong Province. Vehicles here transport passengers between HCMC and central and northern localities.

The new Mien Dong (southeastern region) Bus Station in 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

The Mien Dong Bus Station in 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Put into service in October 2020, it can serve more than seven million passengers a year, equal to 21,000 passengers and 1,200 departures per day.

The section of National Highway 1 near Linh Xuan Intersection in Thu Duc City is one of the locations in HCMC where fixed-route buses are allowed to stop and pick up passengers, making it convenient for those living nearby to board without having to detour to the station.

Most buses stopping here head towards central and northern Vietnam. However, many buses with no licenses also swarm the area to pick up passengers.

Nguyen Lam Hai, deputy director of the new Mien Dong Bus Station, stated that the number of passengers has increased in recent months thanks to the rising travel demand for Tet, but it is still not as high as expected.

In January, an average of 274 bus departures carried about 4,000 passengers daily, reaching nearly 5% of capacity.

Besides the station’s location, which is far from the city center, and a lack of traffic connectivity, Hai mentioned the proliferation of "illegal buses and makeshift terminals" as another problem affecting official terminal-based enterprises.

Currently, the station has 96 registered transportation companies, but in reality only 57 are operational as many have moved outside or switched to other terminals.

Additionally, some inter-provincial routes from other terminals in HCMC pass by the new terminal, so bus companies pre-arrange pickups along the way, making it even harder for the terminal to attract passengers into its facility. Moreover, many buses deviate from their routes to gather passengers, further complicating operations for terminal-based companies.

Phan Cong Bang, deputy director of HCMC’s Department of Transport, said in 2022 that when the new Mien Dong Station came to life, the plan was to have it connect with Metro Line No. 1, which will run from downtown District 1 to Thu Duc City.

However, until now, the metro line has yet to be up and running. The city’s latest plan is for the metro to start operating in July this year.

Among those solutions are plans to build an overpass and a tunnel in front of the new station as well as to expand the nearby Hanoi Highway and National Highway 1A to boost connectivity.

Do Ngoc Hai, an official from the HCMC Department of Transport, noted that travel demand spikes during Tet, leading to increased traffic tension in some areas, including a rise in illegal buses.

Preliminary statistics show that there are currently 60 unauthorized pickup and drop-off points in the city.

Functional units under the department are focusing on inspection and handling, especially around gateways and bus terminals.

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