Vietnam should take a leaf out of Indonesia's public bus book

By Anh Duong   May 17, 2022 | 04:59 pm PT
Vietnam should take a leaf out of Indonesia's public bus book
A BRT at a station in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
If Hanoi and HCMC could have effective Bus Rapid Transit systems with their separate lanes allowing smooth traffic, why would anyone want to use motorbikes?

Saigon was greeted with a heavy downpour at the beginning of this week. Getting to work, already a tedious task, was now chaotically worse. Motorbikes pulled themselves to the side en-masse and riders brought their raincoats out.

Cars weren't much better off, either. They had to switch lanes frequently, making traffic even more complicated. Buses had no maneuvering room.

As the water poured down my face, I wondered, not for the first time: was I better off on the bike or were the bus passengers the happier lot? The answer seemed obvious. They could just sit there and enjoy the rain tapping on the glass, insulated from the outside chaos.

Of course, riding a bus in Vietnam is not always the most pleasant experience. It requires forbearance and not a little of it. I used to go to work on buses too, but could not go through the experience for long.

I’ve seen people talking about banning motorbikes these days. I don’t necessarily oppose this. In any developed city, personal vehicles should be restricted and public transport prioritized. I’m often surprised to see buses with signs on them saying "We’re sorry for getting in and out of lanes."

Why should they be sorry? Why should a public vehicle feel sorry for the selfishness of people on the road? Cars and motorbikes are willing to take up every inch of road space they can, but they still have the audacity to say that "the buses are taking up too much space."

Now, let us look the Bus Rapid Transit system works in Jakarta.

A video footage of BRTs running in Jakarta, Indonesia. Video obtained by VnExpress

The Indonesian capital is a city that suffers one of the worst traffic jams one can imagine, but it has been implementing a BRT system since 2004.

Today, Jakarta has around 500 BRT buses working from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Those running on vital routes do so 24/7. Transjakarta is now available throughout the capital, with 12 main routes and over 200 stations.

Each bus has only 30 seats, but can host up to 80 passengers at a time. Bus stations in Indonesia are typically connected with pedestrian streets throughout the country.

Yes, traffic jams still happen and cars and motorbikes still get stuck on the road, but no one tries to get in front of one another. In their own lanes, the BRT buses can just mind their own business.

I hope Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can get such a system working here as well. A good public transport system can discourage people from using motorbikes and cars, even.

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