Four easy steps to reduce traffic jams in major cities

By Nguyen Thi Bich Ha   October 31, 2022 | 06:46 pm PT
Four easy steps to reduce traffic jams in major cities
Vehicles are stuck in traffic in Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District, April 29, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Traffic jams are a problem in many major cities and Vietnam's no exception. But we don't have to rely on complicated, costly solutions. We do need clarity and determination, though.

This might sound like stating the obvious, but it needs to be stated: push back and scatter working hours; use buses to transport students; severely restrict personal vehicles.

Get the drift? There are myriads of ways to reduce traffic jams in our cities if we apply some of the obvious solutions with firm resolve and cooperation.

In Vietnam, traffic jams occur on a daily basis in two major cities – Hanoi and HCMC – because of two main reasons: dense population and illogical city planning.

Nowadays, traffic measures proposed by the government are more like painkillers to temporarily subdue the symptom rather than the strong chemo dose that is needed to address the root of this disease in a thorough manner.

We Vietnamese as a society have to fundamentally change our social patterns to tackle the problem of traffic jams – now and in the future.

First, we should separate the working hours of different social sectors. I would suggest changing the working hours of public offices to 10 a.m., which would be different from those of private firms. This would dramatically reduce the flow of commuters early in the morning.

Second, we should address the commuting needs of students with steely determination. In Hanoi and HCMC, millions of children are chauffeured to school by parents every day before they head to work. This is due to the insufficiency of public transportation for children, not only in quantity, but also in quality. Many parents are worried about the safety of their children when using existing bus routes, with many cases of pick-pocketing or small accidents reported often.

We have to further expand the current public transport system and ensure that some buses are exclusively reserved for students, especially during the timeframes when children usually go to school (6 to 7 a.m.) and return home (4 to 6 p.m.), stopping at school-specific stops. Though this measure demands collaboration between multiple stakeholders, its benefits will be enormous and endless.

Third, we should change how society views public transportation. Public transportation should denote any means of travel other than personal vehicles. So apart from buses and trains, taxis and motorbike taxis also come under the public transportation umbrella.

Typically, if each of the thousands of motorbike taxis drivers have approximately 30 rides a day, it would amount to roughly 250 thousand rides every day in Hanoi, which is a staggering figure showing how much the cities are dependent on them. The point is that by using them, citizens would feel less the need to own and use a private vehicle, leading to a rise in the use of other public transportation means like buses and trains.

Unfortunately, these forms of "unrecognized" public transportation face great critical scrutiny by the government, which wants to limit the flow of these vehicles in favor of private ones. It is a sad reality that the government continues to promote the ownership and use of private vehicles. Instead, society should promote taxis and motorbike taxis as a step towards reduced use of privately-owned vehicles, which entails a reconfiguration of how we understand and make policies on public transportation.

Fourth, the current division of traffic lanes is, in my opinion, not suitable. As cars are supposed to drive on the left-most side of the road, they frequently need to change to the right lane before making a turn or stopping at a building, creating a lot of blockages on the route. We need to rejig the division of traffic lanes to create a smoother driving experience for all vehicles.

I hope these ideas will be carefully considered by the authorities towards addressing the core issues that underlie the problem of traffic jams in Hanoi and HCMC.

If we do not drastically rethink our idea of modern, comfortable living facilitated by smooth mostly public transportation instead of the selfish chaos that rules our roads today, we will never get rid of the problem. Instead we will compound it and hurt a lot of ordinary people in taking "tough steps" to solve it.

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