The only means of public transport currently available in Vietnam are buses, which are unpopular because they’re often late, slow and uncomfortable.
Official data shows Hanoi has 92 bus routes serving 15 percent of total travel demand. In Saigon, public transport currently meets just 9 percent of travel demand.
And with increasing gridlock, most commuters opt for motorbikes, the fastest way to get you from A to B. The wealthier ones, on the other hand, would rather get stuck in traffic in a comfortable car, away from pollution and harsh tropical weather. This has, of course, made the traffic even worse.
In response, both cities are building metro systems, which should be faster and more comforable than buses.
Hanoi will increase the number of public buses from 1,000 to 1,500 and expand its heavily delayed metro system in the coming years to encourage people to use public transport. The city plans to have six metro lines and three bus rapid transit lines by 2030. By then, the capital also intends to ban motorbikes from downtown streets.
In Saigon, authorities are trying to find the money to pay for nine metro, monorail and tramway projects.
But, old habits die hard. Subsidized bus fares in Saigon and a BRT in Hanoi have both failed to attract significantly more commuters. The former has increased passengers by just over 2 percent in one year while the latter is running below capacity even during rush hour.
After all, the motorbike culture stems from thousands of back alleys that define Hanoi and Saigon.
“I cannot imagine how I’d get around Hanoi without a motorbike,” Nguyen Thuy Linh, a student from the Hanoi University of Commerce, said. “You can’t reach houses buried several kilometers down small alleys if you’re traveling by metro, bus or even private car.”
Cars are a status symbol, and with a growing middle class, sales have been rising fast in recent years. Ten years ago, there were hardly any cars on the roads of Vietnam’s largest cities. Nowadays, there are so many cars that the government’s been forced to ban them from certain streets while trying to contain the expansion of Uber, Grab and traditional taxis.
Meanwhile, public transport remains seemingly reserved for the poor, students and the elderly.
Experts say Hanoi and Saigon do need metro systems. The problem is not just building the systems but putting in place other policies “so that the public views the entire transport system as fair, efficient, convenient and affordable,” said Jonathan Pincus, a HCMC-based economist with the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program.
Will the public use the metro system in Vietnam when it takes off? Is the planned public transport system attactive enough or do we need additional policies to make people say goodbye to private vehicles?
Let us know by leaving a comment and casting your vote below.