Hanoi's plan to remove motorbikes from the streets of the city in the next four or five years is hardly feasible, said Nguyen Van Thach, head of the Traffic Safety Department under the Transport Ministry.
He said the ban would be impossible to implement due mainly to undeveloped and insufficient public transport in Hanoi.
“If the city manages to put four to five urban monorail routes into operation by 2020 then we can talk about reducing the use of private transport,” said Thach.
He pointed to the fact that metro projects and monorail routes have faced years of delays.
“The construction is progressing slowly so the ban [on private vehicles] is impossible,” said the senior traffic official.
Fast-economic growth has shaped Hanoi into a city of motorbikes. Currently there are more than 5 million motorized two-wheelers on Hanoi’s roads, and the number of new vehicles is on the rise, putting mounting pressure on the city’s transport infrastructure. Statistics show around 19,000 new vehicles are registered in the city each month, and it is estimated that by 2020 there will be more than 6 million motorbikes on the streets of the capital.
Motorbikes are deeply integral to all aspects of everyday life in the city. In Hanoi, nearly everyone has a motorbike to travel around the tiny streets and alleys. According to the World Bank, motorbikes play an important role in making Hanoians’ commute relatively shorter compared to other large Asian cities.
Bui Danh Lien, chairman of the Hanoi Transport Association, said the only way to talk people into ditching their private vehicles is to build a well-developed public transport system.
“Everyone knows that to curb congestion, we have to develop public transport and reduce the use of private vehicles. Under the current circumstances, it would be difficult for Hanoi to introduce these measures,” said Thach, the traffic official.
He also ruled out the prospect of putting more buses into use.
With the current limited infrastructure and narrow streets, the number of public buses can only increase in certain areas and to a certain level, he said.
Thach explained that public buses are more suitable to cities with a population of 1.5 million. The populations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are now about 7 million and nearly 9 million respectively.
Experts suggested that to reduce congestion, major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City should impose a ban on private cars rather than on motorbikes from downtown areas.
Cars cause between 50% and 70% of urban traffic congestion, said Ha Huy Quang, deputy director of Hanoi Transport Department.
And 75 percent of traffic accidents are caused by cars, said Khuat Viet Hung, vice chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee.
Experts said the whole system could collapse following a surge in car ownership in Hanoi. The number of cars is growing at speed, at more than 200 percent between 2005 and 2015, according to the World Bank.