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Vietnam should rethink its motorbike ban

By Trunkslessj   April 19, 2022 | 05:13 pm PT
Vietnam should rethink its motorbike ban
Motorbikes spill onto a sidewalk in HCMC's District 10 due to traffic jams, January 21, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa
Myanmar has failed to meet people's travel demands two decades after its motorbike ban. Indonesia has had to abandon the idea. What about Vietnam, then?

To ban or not to ban motorbikes? This has become an increasingly debated topic these days. Amongst all the pros and cons, we should also look at what other countries have done to see how a similar ban would work – or not work - in Vietnam.

Myanmar became a pioneer in banning motorbikes when it implemented the policy in the former capital of Yangon in 2003. The ban, applied to downtown areas, would fine motorbike riders K20,000 (US$10.81) for their violations and their vehicles could be seized.

On the bright side, the number of traffic accidents and the snatching of valuables by people on bikes have dropped significantly thanks to the ban. But there are other sides that cannot be ignored.

For one, traffic has gotten much worse. The average traveling speed in downtown Yangon has reduced from 38 kph to 10 kph after the ban, studies have found. The average time for road delivery in Yangon is 50 minute, against 32 minutes in Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay.

The motorbike ban has forced citizens to rely on public transport, but the city's bus system has never been able to handle the demand. If you've ever gone on a bus in Yangon you would know what I mean.

Nearly two decades have passed since the motorbike ban was implemented in Yangon, but its problems never went away. Myanmar has never applied the ban in any other major city.

Indonesia's Jakarta shares many similarities with Hanoi and HCMC. The capital city also issued a motorbike ban, but was forced to abandon the policy because of insufficient infrastructure and public transport capacity.

In contrast, Chinese cities like Beijing or Shanghai have very efficient public transport systems; and coupled with multi-lane, multi-layer roads, they help ensure smooth traffic for cars. Public transport alone already accounts for 50 percent of the population's travel demand, and it is natural that the number of motorbikes is dwindling and a ban on the two-wheelers might have some practical value.

Banning motorbikes however isn't the only solution to improve traffic systems. Taiwan has twice the population density as Vietnam, at around 688 people per square kilometer, along with higher rate of motorbike ownership (67 motorbikes for every 100 people compared to Vietnam's 50). Even with such high motorbike and population density, Taiwan's traffic jams are never as bad as Vietnam.

Let's take Taiwan's capital Taipei. The average annual income of its residents is around $30,000, yet they use motorbikes, mostly. Before 2000, traffic jams in the city were as bad as in Hanoi and HCMC these days, but the problem was greatly mitigated thanks to proper traffic planning.

It is not necessary to completely shut motorbikes out of our lives. There are so many other ways to solve our traffic problems, simply by reorganizing spaces and resources. A motorbike ban is simply a way to deal with a symptom, it is not a cure. And there is no guarantee that it will even get rid of the targeted symptom. And there is no guarantee that Vietnam will succeed where Yangon and Jakarta have failed.

 
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