Yesterday, Ha Noi began a pilot project to adjust the work hours of more than 2 million office workers, teachers and students to try and ease rush-hour traffic.
Testing out new ideas is needed in every field, but careful studies or large-scale surveys should be made before introducing any scheme affecting millions of people.
However, our esteemed city leaders decided to adjust working hours regardless of teachers' worries about whether the changes will affect students' work or parents' worries about how to collect their children. And how are personnel officers supposed to allocate teachers and officers for longer time slots at school?
One is forced to think that these concerns are not considered the responsibility of transport leaders. I haven't heard of any research related to the new times, apart from the fact that more than 2 million people will be affected. I interviewed 40 people, all of them opposed the scheme because of the disorder they could see it would introduce into their lives.
A leader at the city traffic department attempted to calm down residents by saying that adjustments would be made as the pilot scheme progressed. Does this mean after a short implementation period, millions of Hanoians may be handed another new timetable if the present one doesn't ease traffic?
On the first day of the new plan, traffic jams were still occurring everywhere as the daily routines of millions of people spun into disorder (see more on Page 5). Ha Noi spends more than US$620,000 a year on express buses to serve students in the early morning and late evening. My own family, like others, pay up to US$95 a month hiring a driver to do the job.
Ha Noi authorities are also "piloting" a project to divide 13 streets into separate lanes for cars and motorbikes. This has cost the city $1.13 million and caused much confusion - even adding to the danger of trying to turn left. In fact, many drivers have already crashed into the barriers. Similar projects in 2003 and 2006 failed after a short period.
I do not know why our leaders should want to try once again. Perhaps, they learned some lessons from the two previous failures because, this time, the Deputy Director of the Transport Department said he was determined to make the plan work.
But the question remains: Why aren't such important projects affecting millions of people carefully tested before being implemented? Ha Noi, a city with more than 6.5 million people, is not a laboratory but a complicated structure where there are many inter-reactions. One tiny change may be enough to create a disaster.
Two years ago, more than $200,000 was spent on mobile barriers to block intersections on main roads during peak hours. After several months, city leaders admitted the pilot did not work and even caused accidents.
To compound the silliness, residents were recently startled at a city leader's idea of forcing motorbikes and cars with odd and even number plates to travel on different days. Luckily, this idea was withdrawn at the last minute.
This reminds me of the time I lived in Sydney. The city council there surveys residents before implementing any project.
It is time for Viet Nam's leaders to think more deeply about any changes - and to give the people an active say in their development.