By Hồng Minh
The decision, when it came, seemed inevitable.
Just before the four-day vacation last weekend, Hà Nội People’s Committee Chairman Nguyễn Đức Chung cancelled the exclusivity of the bus rapid transit (BRT) system in the capital city.
His order said that ordinary buses will also be allowed to use the hitherto BRT-dedicated lanes.
The legal “encroachment” will be piloted over the next six months with a provision to expand the right of use to other vehicles, Chung said.
Chung said it looked unreasonable that the BRT system had its own lane.
Let’s be very explicit about what is implicit in the “unreasonable” comment or acknowledgment.
A waste of space and a waste of money!
The decision of the city leader was cheerfully yay-ed by many Netizens on social media, especially those who commute daily on the same route as the BRT.
So this super expensive project, given a lot of priority, and a lot of legal heft, where any other vehicle mistakenly using the lane (on very crowded streets) would be fined, has proved ineffective.
How ineffective? Let’s see.
Apart from the space reserved exclusively for system, creating problems for vehicles crammed into the remaining space on the road, did many people choose to use the BRT?
Statistics for the last three months show that on BRT 01, running from Yên Nghĩa to Kim Mã, the average number of passengers per trip was 42.4, less than half its designed capacity of 90 passengers.
After four months on the street, the first BRT route was not able to use its full capacity, despite the fact that the average speed of BRT is nearly 20kmph, reportedly five minutes faster than ordinary buses (between destinations).
A lot of money was invested in the project, with the claim that it could change the face of the capital city’s public transport.
I think it is safe to say that there was no improvement in the traffic situation because of this project.
Who is to blame for the obvious failure, and what is going to the fate of the next BRT routes?
The quantitative aspects of ‘waste” in this case make for sad reading. More than VNĐ1 trillion (US$44 million) was spent on the first route, which is 14.7km long. This is nearly $3 million every kilometre (including the buses), way too expensive, even more than a highway.
Another noteworthy aspect of the development of Hà Nội’s BRT system is that it was not localized at all.
Nguyễn Xuân Thủy, an urban transport export, said part of the failure of the BRT in Hà Nội that the city’s Department of Transport had failed to consult other stakeholders, including the World Bank - the ODA donor for the project.
Instead, the department rushed into implementing costly models from countries like Ecuador and China, without taking time or advice to assess whether those models would apply efficiently, cost-effectively, to Vietnamese conditions.
The BRT failure highlights the imperative of all projects being implemented in a participatory, transparent manner. Projects have to be researched carefully so that a product or service benefits all people.
Another important lesson is that the buck has to stop somewhere. Someone should take responsibility for the project’s failure.
In the BRT case, the Hà Nội Department of Transport should take responsibility and work on the project’s future effectiveness. It can’t shrug off the ineffective use of public resources with impunity, meaning all the obvious mistakes have to be avoided next time.
And it is not just Ha Noi that should do this. The preparations and designs for the BRT system being planned in Đà Nẵng and HCM City have to be reviewed. They cannot be allowed to repeat Ha Noi’s mistakes.
Most importantly, along with researching the BRT system, we have to consider in tandem the measures relating to other means of transport that have to be taken if public transportation is to become really effective in resolving traffic chaos and reducing pollution. — VNS