Buses, the way to go for a better Hanoi

July 15, 2022 | 05:46 pm PT
Sébastien Eskenazi Data scientist
In recent weeks I have read here a few articles for and against buses and public transport in Hanoi.

I have been using public transport around the world since I was a teenager and for more than five years in Hanoi.

Being passionate about urbanism I am familiar with this topic of urban transport organization and would like to offer here some fact-based thoughts about the situation in Hanoi.

People often complain that there are no buses near them. This is usually wrong. With more than 1,000 buses and 100 routes, the Hanoi bus network is dense. The main issue is that planning a route is difficult. I recommend using the Moovit application instead of Tim Buyt. It lists all the bus routes, can save my preferred places and it even has real time info about the bus location.

Try to plan a trip with it and you will see that there are usually one or more ways to go to your destination by public transport.

Another complaint is about how long it takes. And this is to save the planet and Vietnam and we have to sacrifice some of our comfort. There is no way around it: if you want a less polluted and less congested Hanoi, then you must use public transport, and it will usually take twice as long to go to your destination as it would on a motorbike.

Using public transport means walking one or two kilometers a day and changing bus routes. Walking is good for your health although you will realize that many sidewalks are not really made for pedestrians. That is a point for future improvement.

Another comfort complaint is "I cannot find a seat in the bus." A good bus is a bus (reasonably) full so that the CO2 emissions, bus and infrastructure cost per passenger are optimal. That means that most people are standing. People must learn to sacrifice some of their comfort if they want a better Hanoi and a better Vietnam.

There are many advantages to buses: you do not suffer from the weather and can read, surf the Internet or listen to podcasts, audiobooks, the radio, or music while traveling.

Thus, the time spent traveling is not wasted like it would be while driving a car or a motorbike. And it is safer: you do not risk being injured or personally involved in an accident. And you will arrive more relaxed as you do not have any stress from driving.

But there are ways to improve this situation.

In a traffic jam, most of the road is occupied by cars. Motorbikes drive between them or on the sidewalk. So removing motorbikes will not free much road space or solve the problem.

On the contrary, since there are roughly twice as many motorbikes as cars in a traffic jam, if 10 percent of these motorbikes were converted to cars, there would be 20 percent more cars on the road and a 20 percent increase in traffic jams. Hence banning cars is a better option than banning motorbikes.

There are more ways to make things better. When there are traffic jams, the police focus on regulating traffic. What if instead we had dedicated lanes for public and shared transportation (with some rules to avoid abuse) and the police focused on ensuring that private vehicles do not encroach on them? That is cheap to implement and will help make public transport much faster. On major multi-lane roads, it will certainly make sense.

Also, with the two billion dollars it costs for a single metro line we can buy 10,000-20,000 buses, more than enough to convert the whole city to bus-only transportation.

So maybe it is worth considering what the most efficient way to allocate the funds available is. We also need funds to build elevated highways to reduce traffic jams. But if most people take the bus, there is no need for these highways anymore and these funds can be used for public transport.

Lastly, we can plan bus routes with a fractal approach as suggested by scientific and empirical evidence (Yamu & van Nes, 2019). We could have backbone bus routes that run at a high frequency across the whole city and a set of localized bus routes that focus on a particular area and run less frequently but allow the bus network to reach many places.

Since everybody will travel on the backbone routes, they need to have a high frequency and dedicated lanes. This will help reduce the overall transportation time and prevent traffic jams. And since the local routes will be shorter, they can run more frequently and/or have more stops than current routes without needing more buses. This will make it easier for people to access the public transport network by having bus stops closer to where they are.

For the backbone, we already have the two metro lines, we can improve the BRT and we can easily have a route in the vacant space under ring road 3. Then the localized routes could start from the backbone route bus stops and reach every nook and corner.

In conclusion, public transport has room for improvement but is not bad and has its advantages. With proper prioritization, planning and investment it can have a bright future. I certainly hope so as I don't see any other way to solve Hanoi's pollution and gridlock problems and achieve the objective of reducing CO2 emissions.

*Sebastien Eskenazi is an expert in AI and data science. He has been living in Hanoi since 2016. The opinions expressed are his own.

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