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|Imminent urban railway systems aim to help reduce traffic jams in the city, Photo: Le Toan|
HANOI’S NEW IMAGE
The first test run of the Cat Linh-Hadong elevated urban railway was conducted from September 20, marking the first finished urban railway project in Hanoi and Vietnam, and opening a new era where public transport can replace private transport in urban areas.
According to Hanoi’s general master plan by 2030 with vision to 2050 approved by the prime minister in Decision No.519/QD-TTg dated March 31, 2016, Hanoi’s urban railway network will have eight routes running on elevated runways and underground, with total length of 318 kilometres.
Hanoi’s urban railway system is expected to increase the number of people using public transport to 35-45 per cent, contributing to the city’s socioeconomic development, reducing traffic jams, and improving environmental conditions.
Assessing the effect of the urban railway on the socioeconomic development, Michiyoshi Hasegawa, general director of Vietnam Tokyo Metro One Member Limited Liability Company, said that the system is part of the city’s master plan.
Even if the Cat Linh-Hadong elevated urban railway fails to boost the socioeconomic development of the city, the network of urban railways coming into operation in the next years will surely enable people to realise the benefits of public transport.
The official launch of this railway over the next months is the first step and a significant milestone in urban development, he emphasised.
MOTORBIKES STILL HOLD THE UPPER HAND
In Vietnam, the current local transport system is featured with huge traffic jams due to the large number of alleys criss-crossing the country.
According to Ho Chi Minh City Urban Planning Agency, alleys make up 85 per cent of the Vietnamese transport system.
Tran Quoc Bao, a researcher specialised in urban architecture at École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris-La Villette (ENSA Paris La Villette) in France told VIR that if the urban railway system is developed inclusively and deployed synchronously, traffic jams could be mitigated but not removed, and public transport cannot replace private vehicles.
While urban railway is very useful for long-distance transport from the suburbs to the inner city, it is not suitable for short-distance transport or to reach destinations far from the stations, because the distance between two stations is estimated at 1-2km in the inner city and 2-4km in the suburbs.
Meanwhile, motorcycles can meet three key criteria: they are cheap, fast, and flexible. This is particularly important in the context of low personal incomes in the country and the lack of infrastructure, which result in increasing traffic jams.
Even in the two biggest cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City where the transport infrastructure is the most developed, public transport can only match 8-10 per cent of the total demand. Therefore, motorbikes are still an ideal vehicular choice in Vietnam.
According to the Vietnam Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers (VAMM), the total number of motorbikes sold by five VAMM members in the second quarter of this year – Piaggio Vietnam, Suzuki Vietnam, SYM Vietnam, Yamaha Motor Vietnam, and Honda Vietnam – are higher than in the previous years.
A VAMM representative told that motorbike will likely be chosen by almost people until 2030 and beyond, and motorcycles are here to stay.
“In big cities, even if the planned railway networks and bus networks are completed, about 70 per cent of the people will still choose motorcycles. In small and medium-sized cities, about 90 per cent of the people will stick to motorbikes,” the representative said, with confidence.
Specifically, VAMM members’ motorcycle sales rose from over 3.1 million in 2016 and to nearly 3.3 million in 2017. In the first half of this year, this figure was 1.59 million, up 4 per cent on-year. It could be seen that local motorbike business still has good prospects.
Of these, Honda is considered as the most popular motorbike brand in Vietnam, capturing around 75 per cent of the whole market share.
Director of Yamaha Duc Hung store on Giai Phong street, also expressed his belief that the sales of Yamaha motorbikes will continue to grow.
He told VIR, “the number of motorbikes sold at my store continuously increases from year to year. Although the urban railway is going to be put into operation, I believe that it will not impact our sales much because motorbikes are still the most comfortable and popular means of transport in cities and this will not change for dozens of years.”
WHEN WILL MOTORBIKES BE SET ASIDE?
With the domestic popularity habit, it will be very difficult to effect a change from motorcycles to other means of transport among local people.
“This requires a long time and huge efforts from local authorities because motorbikes are part of the local culture,” Bao from ENSA Paris La Villette told VIR.
Over the past few years, traffic congestions due to the enormous number of motorbikes and cars in traffic, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, have been an incurable headache for local authorities.
The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Transport’s data stated that the city with a population of more than 10 million people in 2015 recorded 7.2 million motorbikes, and there were 91 vehicles per 100 people in the city.
In addition, the General Statistics Office of Vietnam also stated that Hanoi in 2015 also recorded 5.2 million motorbike sales, up 6.7 per cent year-on-year.
To resolve traffic jams in the cities, the Ministry of Transport has launched public transportation lines like buses and bus rapid transits (BRTs) along many routes, but motorbikes still hold the upper hand.
“Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have been overloaded for a very long time now and improving public transportation does not resolve the core problem – the high population density,” Bao said. “To deal with congestion in the cities, the population density has to be reduced, this is not only a problem of transport but also of urban planning.”
The current population density in the cities has increased to such heights that have been making it difficult to improve public transportation. The construction of urban railways forces local authorities to clear residential areas, relocating dozens of thousands of households, while bus systems need broader road surfaces. Similarly, the construction of walking streets also need to clear pavements and relocation of buildings.
Thus, the key issue in resolving traffic congestion is harmonising transport and urban planning. Motorbikes, therefore, will not be relegated to museum anytime soon.