HCM CITY — The increasing outlays on subsidies and declining service quality are the main hurdles to HCM City's plan to develop bus transport.
The city provided a subsidy of nearly VND1.27 trillion (US$60.4 million) for bus services last year, 49 per cent higher than in 2010. This is expected to increase to VND1.5 trillion ($72 million) this year.
Despite efforts made by the city's Department of Transport, including improving the quality of buses and services, and introducing environmentally-friendly CNG (compressed natural gas) buses, not many people are switching to using public transport.
Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang even called on all ministry staff to use buses.
Last year public transport in HCM City served more than 552 millions passengers, meeting just 10 per cent of transport demand, according to the department.
The city seeks to boost this number to 15 per cent by 2015, up from the current 10 per cent, an increase not commensurate with the investment.
The Public Transport Management Centre criticised this as inefficient use of funds.
To have 25 per cent of all commuters travelling by bus would need trillions of dong in subsidies, according to analysts.
Members of the People's Council have suggested that the city should change its subsidy system to make the investment in bus development more effective.
But the increase in the subsidy went towards the higher fuel costs, which was increased five times last year, and transport workers' increased salaries, director of the department, Tran Quang Phuong, said.
Buses are still the most popular means of public transport, widely used by workers and students, so the subsidisation should continue, he said.
Le Trung Tinh, head of the department's Transport Management Office, said the city was planning to build six metro lines and 10 monorail routes, but if there is no breakthrough in the next decade or so, buses would remain the main form of public transport.
But the quality of vehicles is deteriorating rapidly, making many people reluctant to use them.
Most of the buses of the HCM City Transport Co-operative, which account for nearly a third of the vehicles operating in the city, need to be upgraded since they are almost 10 years old, its general director, Phung Dang Hai, said.
The co-operative has more than 800 buses of which 20 per cent need to be overhauled, he added.
In all, there are 3,000 buses operating in the city.
The department plans to introduce 1,680 more by 2015 Chronic traffic jams, caused by the increasing number of private vehicles, is another obstacle to bus services. The city has around 5 million motorbikes and 500,000 automobiles.
Relevant bodies have asked the city to introduce bus-only lanes on a trial basis and give priority to small buses to exclusively serve students and workers.
At a meeting held earlier this month to discuss activities for the Year of Traffic Safety, People's Committee chairman Le Hoang Quan said improving bus services would be a focus this year.
To improve them, the city has been making plans for public transport development for until 2025, under which their management will be improved and propaganda on using buses as a primary means of transport will be strengthened.
The department is also working on a plan to introduce an express bus route on the East-West Highway, linking Ben Thanh and Mien Tay (Western Region) Bus Stations. — VNS