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Pressure on passage

Released at: 15:30, 07/12/2016

Pressure on passage

Photos: Duc Anh

VET is pleased to publish an extract from “The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies” by Mr. Du The Huynh from the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City and Mr. José Gomez-Ibañez from Harvard University.

Urban land use patterns and spatial structure

Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are still rather monocentric cities in urban structure, with employment concentrated in the center and the residential population accommodated in a surrounding ring extending out for at least 20 km.

The main force shaping their urban expansion has been the market, notwithstanding the introduction of modern planning by French colonialists and the adoption of the central planning model after independence was won in 1975. The legacy of French urban planning can be observed in the centers of the two cities. This was a modest fraction of the total developed area, even in colonial times.

More recently, municipal governments have invested money and effort in planned developments, but these areas are much smaller than the spontaneous, informal developments. Generally, the formal sector accounts for a modest proportion of the total housing supply while urban housing demand has grown significantly due to the large influx of rural migration.

Many rural migrants have purchased or appropriated agricultural land to build houses. Between 1993 and 2002, more than 152,000 houses were built illegally in Ho Chi Minh City (ALMEC Corporation 2004). Typically, these developments have insufficient infrastructure and little or no land for open or common spaces. Migrants economize on land for roads by laying out lots that are thin and deep with the narrow-end fronting on a narrow road.

Due to their shape, the resulting buildings are commonly called “tube houses”. Except for central-business-districts (CBDs) and a few newly-planned areas, informal urban development can be found across many parts of the two cities. Owing to informality and spontaneous construction, an extraordinary 83 per cent of households (estimated) in Ho Chi Minh City own their home.

While informal settlements have afforded low-cost shelter for the poor, their development has also brought about many problems, including traffic congestion, pollution, overcrowding, insecurity, and a shortage of public facilities.

Municipal governments have attempted to upgrade many informal areas by providing new infrastructure, including roads, sewage, drainage, and water supply systems.

However, the high population density and the complications of expropriating land have prevented the creation of well-organized road networks and other facilities. For example, the road system in Ho Chi Minh City in 2007 consisted of 2,800 km of conventional roads and 5,000 km of alleys. Of the conventional roads in the inner districts, a mere 14 per cent were wider than 12 meters (i.e., suitable for full-size buses) while 51 per cent were 7-12 meters wide and suitable only for cars or minibuses. The remaining 35 per cent were only wide enough for bicycles or motorcycles.

Overall, only 8-9 per cent of built-up land is dedicated to transportation in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The road coverage share is similar in Jakarta, Bangkok, and other cities in neighboring developing countries but is roughly twice as high in Tokyo and four times as high in New York.

Trends in transport use and mobility

Since the 1990s, a number of surveys and studies on transport and mobility have been conducted in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The two most comprehensive and reliable are those by the ALMEC Corporation. In addition, a number of smaller scale studies have been carried out, including those by JBIC (1999) and the Ho Chi Minh City University of Transport (2014).

Data indicate that modal shares have changed dramatically over time. In the 1980s, bicycles were the main urban transport mode in Vietnam. By the mid-1990s, one-third of travelers in Hanoi and two-thirds in Ho Chi Minh City had shifted to motorcycles. Within the next decade motorcycle’s share had climbed to roughly 80 per cent in both cities.

In Ho Chi Minh City, the number of registered motorcycles increased from 500,000 in 1991 to more than 6 million in 2014. In both cities, the second largest competing mode - public transport in Hanoi and bicycles in Ho Chi Minh City - served only 10 per cent of trips. In the face of motorcycle dominance, the other modes serve niche markets and purposes.

Public transport and bicycles are used by low-income residents and students while private cars are used by high-income residents and for business purposes. The share of business trips made by car is around 11 per cent in Hanoi and 9 per cent in Ho Chi Minh City.

Mobility rates (i.e., the number of daily trips per capita) varies based on household income and vehicle ownership. On average, residents in both cities make around 2.5 daily trips (excluding walking). But those in car- and/or motorcycle-owning households make approximately four daily trips. Those who own a bicycle make three daily trips, while those who do not own any vehicle make fewer than two daily trips. Clearly, higher incomes and vehicle ownership translate into increased mobility.

Reported travel times in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are short despite the fact that distances are similar to cities of comparable size. The average trip length is 5-6 km. The average travel time is less than 20 minutes. Nearly two-thirds of trips take less than 15 minutes while fewer than 10 per cent take more than half an hour. Most trips by motorcycle are less than 6 km while trips by bus average 9-10 km; a distance similar to those in other developing cities.

Travel times and distances do not appear to have changed significantly over the last decade despite sustained population and economic growth. The most recent survey, by the Ho Chi Minh City's University of Transport (2014) of residents living along the route where the first metro line is being built, revealed that the average travel time is still around 18 minutes while the average trip distance is 1.2 km for pedestrians, 2.5 km for cyclists, 5.5 km for motorcyclists, and 9.5 km for bus passengers.

However, the situation may be changing since major traffic jams are increasingly common. The two cities may be reaching a tipping point beyond which congestion becomes extremely severe.

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