It is obvious that air quality in Hà Nội has deteriorated in recent years, and equally evident that the situation has not improved despite municipal authorities holding any number of meetings on this topic.
Many “far-reaching” proposals have come out of such deliberations, including the revoking of outdated motorbikes, the planting of a million trees and even a “historic, breakthrough” vision of future (2030) when not a single motorbike will be on the city’s roads!
A more modest step was announced at a meeting on air quality held last week. Nguyễn Trọng Đông, director of the municipal Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said local authorities are planning to install automatic car wash stations at gateways to the inner city.
He said that among other things, the surge in number of vehicles was a major contributor to air pollution in the capital city.
“Cars (including personal cars, trash trucks, construction material trucks, coaches) entering the inner city must be washed clean and not release dust,” Đông said, adding that the car wash stations will be built using “socialization funds” and petrol stations will be priority locations.
As soon as his statement was released on media, it ignited controversy, mainly people criticising and ridiculing the notion.
A taxi driver in Hà Nội, Nguyễn Hoàng Việt, said: “I think air pollution in Hà Nội’s inner city is caused by construction activities everywhere, not just by cars entering from outskirts areas. Emissions and dust caused by these cars are nothing compared to other polluting factors.”
He said serious air pollution can be seen on Ring Road No. 3, Khuất Duy Tiến and Phạm Văn Đồng streets, where a lot of construction sites are located in. Vehicles carrying construction materials, many without protective cover, scatter sands, brinks, mud and other materials on the street with impunity, he said.
“We must impose heavy penalties on vehicles scattering construction materials on the streets and use the money to reward those who report such violations,” he said.
Just one truck moving out of a construction site scatters soil and dust, polluting an area covering dozens of kilometers affecting hundreds of thousands of people, said Lê Anh Tuấn, a reader of Vnexpress online.
Other readers said they were in favor of keeping streets in the inner city clean first, rather than washing cars coming in.
Nguyễn Anh Đức, another taxi driver on Đống Đa District, said the new plan was not feasible as most cars (sedans and seven-seaters) are carefully washed, and requiring them to be washed again will waste time and resources.
Nguyễn Văn Thơ, a driver from the northern province of Hưng Yên, said he was worried that long lines of cars waiting to be washed will worsen traffic congestion. It would take five to 15 minutes to wash a car, and Hà Nội does not have the traffic infrastructure for this to happen efficiently, he said.
Others wondered if the facilities would be sufficiently equipped to wash thousands of vehicles each day. They suggested that only trash trucks and those carrying construction materials are asked to clean up before entering the city.
Senior Lt. Col. Nguyễn Văn Quỹ, former head of a division that dealt with traffic violations in the city, said that under the current regulations, vehicles had to be clean with visible number plates to ply on roads in the city. The installation of car wash stations supports the Traffic Law and will improve the environment, he said.
However, he also advised caution in implementing this measure, taking consideration the possibility of the facilities being overloaded, the traffic congestion that would need to be dealt with, and the annoyance of drivers whose cars were already clean.
The car wash service was first proposed nearly 20 years ago. In 2000, a study group from the Japan International Cooperation Agency co-operated with authorised agencies in Hà Nội, including the Hà Nội Urban Environment Company, to initiate the project.
The Hà Nội Urban Environment Company had then proposed that car wash facilities are built at six locations: National Highway 1A, National Highway No.5, No.6, Thăng Long Expressway, Láng-Hòa Lạc Road and Highway No.32. However, this project has remained on paper until now.
In 2005, petrol stations offering car wash services for vehicles carrying construction materials were installed in some areas of Từ Liêm District. However, this was deemed ineffective.
Some car wash stations have been placed around construction sites in Hoàn Kiếm District, located in the heart of the city. However, according to a representative of the district’s traffic inspection team, the requirement of vehicles being washed before leaving the sites and not scattering any material on the streets is rarely observed.
Dirty trucks carrying construction materials leave and entering construction sites at night to avoid supervision, he said.
Quỹ said that car wash stations must be strictly supervised and fines levied on those who leave the work unfinished.
As a resident who travels around the city everyday and is certainly affected by the negative impacts of urban development, I am not opposed to the idea of car wash stations, but this will not lead to any large-scale transformation unless it happens in tandem with better emissions control, waste management and supervision of construction sites.
As a stand-alone measure, it’s a lot of eyewash.
As a perceptive reader noted: “It is ridiculous to ask someone to wash his feet before stepping into a dirty house.” -- VNS