by Khanh Linh
Ha Noi police have just issued a decision banning road users from stopping their vehicles for shopping as a measure to remove impediments to traffic flow in the capital city.
Yet another law that looks perfectly legitimate and reasonable on paper. Given a few precedents, the public can be forgiven for being skeptical about this one, though.
Under the new law, those found stopping their motorbikes or cars on the streets to buy things will be fined between VND100,000-200,000 (US$4.7-9.4) and VND600,000-800,000 ($28.3-37.7) respectively.
Traffic police will be deployed on key streets to crack down on such violations.
Senior lieutenant colonel Dao Vinh Thang, head of the city's traffic police division, said that the decision would increase people's awareness and force them to find parking areas before shopping.
The decision is set to take effect early next month.
In 2008, the municipal transport authority had issued a regulation banning street vendors on 62 selected streets in the inner city. As many as 2,000 police and other law enforcement officers had been deployed to implement the law and a hotline established for the public to report violations.
Almost seven years on, street vendors can be seen in every corner of the city. They are sometimes caught by local police, but quickly re-appear with their shoulder poles and baskets. By now, few remember the ban and most ignore its existence.
The new law can end up having the same experience. As of now, it has appeared as a short news item in local newspapers and websites.
Nguyen Thi Dung, a vendor of fruits on Hoe Nhai Street, said she's not heard about the ban. She thought the police were only targeting the vendors, not their customers.
"They (police) can't work around-the-clock to fine my customers. I will continue my business and warn the customers when needed," she said, shrugging.
Vu Mai Lien, a housewife on Phan Dinh Phung Street, did not know of ban, either.
"I understand that the police want better traffic flow in the city, but what makes them think that the traffic situation will improve by stopping people from buying things on the streets?," she asked.
"Selling things on the streets, especially crowded ones during peak hours, makes the traffic worse," she added.
The presence of enough police officers on the streets is one thing, but there are other wrinkles that might not iron out so easily.
Thang said only drivers who stop their vehicles for shopping would be fined; pedestrians will not be affected by the law at all, he added.
He explained that pedestrians and street vendors were controlled by local police. City traffic police would only focus on violators who own vehicles.
Such inconsistencies can have negative impacts, like bribery and resistance from violators
The shopping habits of residents might need to change, but would they stop buying things from street vendors if a few are caught and fined? Let us look at the record.
A number of traditional markets have been replaced by big shopping centres like the Mo and Hang Da markets. However, the latter have failed to attract customers because it is inconvenient and costly to shop in the upgraded places.
Lien said she would never find a parking area to buy a bunch of greens or other vegetables, as city authorities suggest.
"It's a total waste of time and very inconvenient," she said, adding,"there were not many parking lots available, especially in the Old Quarter where I live. I don't think parking the motorbike one or two kilometres away from the store is a good idea."
Moreover, Lien said, many parking areas overcharge customers. She usually had to pay VND5,000 (23 cents) or VND10,000 (47 cents) instead of the regulated VND3,000 (14 cents).
"I agree that many things have to be done to improve the traffic situation, but every regulation must be comprehensive, feasible and practical, or it will change nothing," she said.
Lien is spot on.
Laws that end up unfairly victimising those trying to eke out a living or making things even more inconvenient for residents, whatever their original motive, are neither fair nor practical.
We have collected enough evidence and experience to know that coming out with piecemeal solution after piecemeal solution without doing a comprehensive feasibility study that takes into account traditional culture and attitudes will not only fail to solve the problem, but can also worsen it.
The new regulation has been issued just several weeks ahead of Tet, when the traffic is likely to become more "unruly." If it works, Hallelujah!
If it does not, let us hope that authorities go back to the drawing board with the bigger picture in mind, one that prevents another piecemeal solution from making the rounds. — VNS