HÀ NỘI – A bird’s eye photo capturing a glimpse of the two-and-a-half-hour traffic jam near Hà Nội’s Tó Bridge on Tuesday morning was the latest example of how disastrous the capital’s traffic has become.
Motorbikes and cars filled up every bit of space on more than two kilometres of the Phan Trọng Tuệ-Kim Giang crossroad, a familiar sight during rush hours. The Tuesday jam made headlines because the jam was bigger than usual, forcing people to spend most of the morning driving to work.
Phạm Hồng Anh, a 26-year-old university lecturer said that her commute was a “nightmare”.
“The roads are jammed from when I step out of my house until I get to the gate of my university,” Anh told Việt Nam News.
“It takes me roughly 25 minutes just to travel four kilometres”.
Her commute passes the infamous Cầu Giấy Street, which over the last few years has transformed into one of the most troublesome traffic hot spots in the capital partly thanks to the long overdue elevated railway project. Constant surges in vehicle numbers are also blamed for the worsened traffic, as Anh complained about how many streets around her house, like Nghĩa Tan, had been clogged up.
Anh was just one among millions of Hanoians coming to terms with bad traffic during their daily life. They choke on motorbike and car exhaust fumes in traffic jams across Nguyễn Trãi, Láng Hạ and Chùa Bộc streets –to name a few – in the 1000-year-old capital, which is going through rapid modernisation.
Hà Nội currently has about five million motorbikes, nearly 550,000 cars together with more than one million bicycles and 10,000 electric bicycles, according to statistics from the Transport Development and Strategy Institute (TDSI).
If all of those vehicles were being used, road usage would surpass infrastructure capacity by nearly four times, as roads make up only 8.65 per cent of Hà Nội’s land.
The strain on the road system is set to increase as the city is projected to have 1.28 million more motorbikes by 2020, a 25 per cent increase on current figures. The number of cars will also rocket by at least 70 per cent to 938,378 in the next four years, according to the TDSI.
The TDSI, based on their forecasts, developed a draft plan for the Hà Nội Department of Transport (DoT) to tackle the traffic nightmare by cracking down on personal transportation. One idea was to ban all motorbikes carrying non-Hanoian licence plates from the city.
Controversial bike ban
As the capital and the leading economy in the north, Hà Nội attracts a huge number of residents from other areas to study and work, bring their vehicles with them.
Nguyễn Lan Phương, a 23-year-old Hanoian student said that whenever she stopped at a traffic light, she could see at least two motorbikes with other localities’ licences.
“They have many different numbers but not 29 to 32,” she said. Those four numbers indicate a vehicle registered in the capital.
There are no official figures on how many non-Hanoian vehicles run on the city streets, but it seems that the TDSI believes that the ban would help solve the traffic problem.
It plans to ban non-Hanoian motorbikes in the city centre from 7am to 7pm starting from 2021, extending the restriction to the area within Ring Road 2 two years later and a couple of places inside Ring Road 3 by 2025.
The draft plan sparked controversy after being reported, receiving swathes of negative feedback as many criticised it for being impractical and an infringement on citizens’ rights.
Urban transport expert Nguyễn Xuân Thủy told Nông thôn Ngày Nay (Countryside Today) newspaper that restricting motorbike use was fine as long as it was in tandem with improved public transport.
“When public transport is not caught up with city development, people have to use motorbikes. It is the authorities who are at fault for letting motorbikes become so rampant in the country,” he said.
“Transport is the heartbeat of the economy. If you block the movements of residents from other localities, who contribute to the development of Hà Nội, how will the economy grow?”
Public transport, a common solution for traffic congestion in other countries, remains unpopular in Hà Nội. Doubts over practicality plague the first bus rapid transit route while the underfunded bus system continues to prove its unreliability. The elevated railways, meanwhile, have seen numerous construction delays and no concrete date has been set for their opening.
After catching public flak for the proposed ban, both the TDSI and the DoT said the plan was just a draft and “subject to adjustments before a final plan is decided”.
The agencies did not rule out the restriction option though, and there was no guarantee that the authorities would not resort to the extreme solution. They might think there is no other solution than the ban. – VNS