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Matters to consider

Released at: 03:15, 20/10/2014

Matters to consider

Most people hope for a better public transport network but at this stage remain unsure about whether they would use an urban railway.

by Ngoc Anh & Nguyen Quynh

The most common means of public transport in Vietnam is bus. In operation for more than ten years and, at least technically, considered to work well, the bus networks in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are still to become popular. They have exhibited limitations and, generally, left a poor impression on passengers. It’s perhaps not too surprising, then, that many are concerned that the urban railway network, when completed, will be met with similar reactions.

The bus? No thanks!

“I travel by motorbike because it’s convenient,” said Ms Truong Diep, an editor in Hanoi. “I don’t like to take the bus to go to work because it’s hard to catch one at the right time, especially during rush hour.” Unfortunately, this is a common sentiment when people talk about the bus network.

VET approached many people in Hanoi, of various ages and with different jobs, and nearly all said they preferred to travel by private transport, regardless of whether a bus would meet their needs. One, a university student, said she catches buses regularly, not because she prefers it but because her parents don’t allow her to travel by motorbike. For Ms Thu Hoa, an office worker, motorbike is the only way to travel. “I’ve taken a bus to work at times but it’s not convenient,” she said. “The bus routes aren’t suitable, the bus driver’s are rude, and there are pickpockets.”

A common weakness of the bus network many people point to is that it doesn’t reach into many parts of the city. This, and the fact that the buses are old and the driver’s are rude, is the main reason most people prefer not to travel by bus. They also say that timetables are poorly thought out, drivers often skip bus stops to save time, and bus stops are not near their home or place of work. “I go by motorbike because the streets are so crowded,” said Mr Nguyen Thac Dung, a vendor in Lang Street. “Public transport doesn’t work for me because I must go to many different places for my job.”

The perception of public transport being the epitome of inefficiency has only strengthened in recent years, with any number of stories appearing in the local media about reckless and rude bus drivers, pickpockets, and rundown facilities. Authorities have for many years said there are plans to improve the bus network and encourage more people to use it, but there are no signs they have made any inroads. According to figures from the Ministry of Transport, existing public transport in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City meets just 10 per cent of travel demand, with most people travelling by private vehicle. So, are they likely to change their habits and travel when the rail network is completed?

The train? I’ll think about it!

Although local people seem eager to see urban railway lines in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, they are worried that the network will fail to meet expectations. When asked whether she would take the train instead of her motorbike, Ms Nguyen Tra My, a university student, wasn’t too sure how to answer. “Would it be faster and more convenient?” she asked.

Convenience and safety are the leading concerns of people when discussing the urban railway network. Mr Dung said he would think about whether to travel by train instead of by motorbike when the network actually opens. “I can’t say yes or no right now because I don’t know enough about it,” he said. “But if it was a good service, was safe, especially during rush hour and at night, had cheap tickets and was punctual then I would consider it.”

Ms Nguyen Ngoc Lan, a vendor on Cau Giay Street, said that nearly all bus stops are on main streets and it takes a long time for people living in small streets to reach them. So if a train station was nearby she may use it. According to Ms Nguyen Thi Hang, an accountant in Hanoi, the train network must be integrated with existing public transport. “For example, there must be bus stop near train stations so I can get to where I’m going,” she said.

Punctuality and ticket prices are also viewed by most people as being important. Especially for students, ticket prices would determine whether they choose to take the train or not. “I hope that ticket prices are reasonable for students,” said Ms Vu Thu Trang, who is studying at the Foreign Language University at Hanoi National University. Another university student, Ms Le Kim Ngan, believes that ticket prices of about VND250,000 ($12) per month or VND10,000 ($0.5) per trip would be acceptable, and around ten minutes between trains would be suitable. Ms Lan also emphasised that punctuality and frequency are key factors in whether she would take the train. “I’m afraid of being late when I use public transport,” she said. “If the trains run on time then I think many people would use them.”

The urban railway lines in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are both under construction and it is expected the first will operate within a few years. According to initial calculations, routes will carry about 1,200 to 1,500 people each trip and it is hoped that the number of people using private vehicles will be cut in half.

According to experts, in order to encourage people to use public transport the location of bus stops or train stations is very important. If public transport is convenient, modern and safe, people will choose not to drive. But it is essential to bolster awareness and change the preference for public transport as soon as possible.

“I absolutely support the urban railway project in Hanoi. If the routes are convenient for me to get to work I would not hesitate to use it. Besides good quality services and fair ticket prices, I think the most important factor in encouraging people to travel by train is awareness. They need to know why taking the train is a smart choice and why people in developed countries choose the train over a private vehicle.”

Mr Huy Dong, an office worker in Hanoi

“I travel by motorbike because it’s more convenient than public transport. Vietnam should build urban railways but I would still travel by motorbike if taking the train was not convenient for my work. I believe that people would take the train if it was integrated with other public transport and was reasonably priced.”

Ms Nguyen Thi Hang, an accountant in Hanoi

“I don’t like travelling by bus because it takes too long, so I normally go to university by motorbike. I’m excited to hear about the urban railway projects in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. I hope that ticket prices are as cheap as bus tickets and every route would have a frequency of around 15 minutes. It normally takes me a long to get home from university because of the traffic, so if taking a train was quicker I would use it.”

Mr Nguyen Duc Hoang, a university student in Hanoi

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