According to the Ministry of Transportation, Ho Chi Minh City had 8.94 million vehicles in 2019, of which, 8.12 million were motorcycles. According to the population census from the same year, the city had 8.99 million registered people. If the unregistered population is included, the city’s population is far over 10 million — a megacity in the making.
It’s no secret that HCMC is a motorcycle city, it’s safe to say the number of registered vehicles in 2019 was equivalent to the city’s official population.
The proportion of land for transport infrastructure to the total urbanized land is just around 9 percent (less than half of what would be desired); public transport accounts for less than 5 percent of ridership. However, the traffic congestion is quite moderate compared to other cities.
Contrary to what’s expected, the moderate situation is due to endless flows of motorcycles. The public’s common intuition often blames the two-wheel vehicles for causing the traffic problem, but transport experts point out that the situation would be much worse if travelers were using cars instead.
However, going back to the days before motorcycles took over the streets, HCMC had public buses. Matter of fact, it still exists today.
In 1949, due to traffic problems and low efficiency, the tramways were demolished and replaced by a bus system that had 77 buses on 9 routes. The buses were painted in blue and appropriately called “Blue Bus.” Public transport played a modest role during the period of French rule.
Fast forward to today, Vietnam’s biggest and most populated city has 128 operating bus routes. Of them, 91 are subsidized by the city. But because buses would often get stuck in traffic during peak hours, a change in the system must be done.
Bus priority lane
In a recent report by SGGP Online, the HCMC Department of Transport has announced plans to reorganize the city’s bus system to ease the current congestion status. Bus priority lanes should be piloted this year to ensure route schedules and bus safety, the experts suggested.
“It is critical that bus route schedules be maintained so that customer confidence is regained, and people come back to this common public transport,” as suggested by Associate Prof. Dr. Pham Xuan Mai from HCMC University of Technology (Vietnam National University – HCMC).
But this isn’t the first time the city made such a move. The former head of the department’s road transport management, Nguyễn Trung Tín, said the HCMC used to have an exclusive bus lane on Trần Hưng Đạo Street in District 5, but it didn’t work as planned.
“The formerly piloting scheme of bus priority lanes on Trần Hưng Đạo Street encountered certain objections from the community. However, it is this practice, along with careful planning, that is implemented widely in developed countries to help buses be more welcomed by the public,” Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thi Canh from the University of Economics and Law (Vietnam National University – HCMC) said.
Experts in the field suggested that HCMC should launch the piloting scheme for bus priority lane on some major streets like Dien Bien Phu (from Ly Thai To Roundabout – Sai Gon Bridge) or Vo Thi Sau (from Dan Chu Roundabout – Dinh Tien Hoang Street), which has many bus lines.
This means private vehicles will be prohibited from entering the lanes at that time. The lanes, 3.25 meters wide, will be separated from the other lanes by barriers.
On top of that, the HCMC Department of Transport shared that the city aims at possessing a multi-means public transport system, including eight metro lines, three tram lines, six bus rapid transit lines (BRT), and 200 regular bus lines, in order to meet the traveling demands of commuters.
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Reorganizing the city’s bus system
To tackle the problem of heavy urban traffic, the municipal authorities have adjusted the planning of the urban transport system to implement the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) model. This model maximizes the link between residential, business, manufacturing areas and the existing public transport system.
HCMC is going to apply this model along Metro Line No.1 (from Ben Thanh in the downtown to Suoi Tien in Thu Duc City), Metro Line No.2 (the first phase: Ben Thanh – Tham Luong in District 12; the second phase: Tham Luong – Cu Chi District) and Metro Line No.5 (the first phase Bay Hien Intersection in Tan Binh District – Saigon Bridge; the second phase: Can Giuoc Coach Station in Long An Province – Bay Hien Intersection).
The HCMC Management Center of Public Transport (MCPT) is going to introduce 21 high-quality bus lines.
The goal is to rebuild the community’s trust in buses and thus increasing their bus use.
In order to fulfill the said goal, these buses must maintain their route schedule and are not allowed to skip bus-stops or passengers under any circumstances. They will be offering free Wi-Fi, a route monitoring device, a sound system automatically connected to MCPT to announce destinations, and free newspapers to serve passengers.
Bus attendants must have good manners, especially towards the seniors, the disabled, the ill, and the invalids. Bus drivers must ensure safety by strictly adhering to traffic laws and minimizing disorder inside the bus.
The new 21 lines must have sufficient infrastructure, including bus stops, stopping space, and regularly updated information boards about current routes and schedules. These facilities must be clean and not illegally occupied by peddlers.
Clearly and with high hopes, the development of public transportation must go along with a more logical control of private vehicle growth.