Make fines immediate, inescapable to stop sidewalk encroachments

By Nguyen Thi Bich Ha   March 12, 2023 | 03:37 pm PT
Make fines immediate, inescapable to stop sidewalk encroachments
A votive paper stall occupies the sidewalk on Hang Ma Street in Hanoi, February 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Viet An
Most people want to abide by the rules, but when one person encroaches on a sidewalk and gains a competitive advantage, others follow suit.

Recently the issue of sidewalk encroachment got renewed attention in Hanoi when authorities launched a cleanup campaign in central areas.

In modern urban areas, sidewalks are traffic lanes reserved for pedestrians and should be treated the same as lanes for cars, motorbikes and bicycles. But city authorities have failed to manage sidewalks effectively for years, partly due to a flawed understanding of the causes of sidewalk encroachment.

There are several reasons for the encroachment.

Firstly, the government has been perceived as tolerating the violation, which sent a negative message to the public.

Secondly, the mentality is prevalent in society, with many people occupying sidewalks for their own purposes. Over time this habit can lead to a disregard for the law and breaking it.

Another factor is the issue of benefits and fairness.

When a business encroaches on a sidewalk, it gains a significant competitive advantage over law-abiding businesses as it can get more space and attract customers. This leads to a race where other businesses feel compelled to encroach too to keep up. This mindset reinforces the idea that breaking the law can lead to financial gain.

So what is the solution? Authorities should ensure common benefits and promote a level playing field for all sellers. If these goals can be achieved, there will be no need for anyone to encroach on sidewalks. To achieve this, a financial tool such as a bank credit card and a website for public administration is needed.

One suggestion is to start with food and beverage outlets, the most common sidewalk businesses, and then expand to others.

Each street stall should be required to have a credit card in the name of its owner. If they are found to have a table or chair on a sidewalk, they should immediately be fined through the card using the owner's phone number. There will be no need for advance notice, arguments or negotiations.

If the owner fails to rectify the situation, they should continue to be fined.

Passersby and neighbors who take photos or videos of violations and report them on the public administration website should be paid a portion of the fine.

This system will enable local governments to collect fines transparently.

A similar mode of punishment can be used for traffic violations. When registering a new motorbike or car, owners must use it as collateral to mandatorily obtain a credit card. If there is a traffic violation such as running a red light, driving in the wrong lane, parking illegally, or speeding, it will be recorded and fined through the card.

Similarly, to apply for a construction permit, owners must use their red book as collateral for a credit card. Any construction violation such as using unsuitable materials and building unlicensed floors should result in a fine through the card.

A portion of the fine should be paid to the whistleblower. Otherwise all violations, no matter how severe, will continue to be tolerated and covered up.

Credit cards, public administration websites, and personal phones can prevent minor corruption. It is necessary to create a decent society in which people respect the common rules of the game, as Singapore has done.

It is unrealistic to expect those who have been encroaching on sidewalks for decades to change their behavior. Only penalties can force people to change bad habits.

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