Air Clean Up

Why Is Hanoi Banning Motorbikes?

Jul 16 2017 Read 599 Times

Vietnamese authorities have signalled their intention to tackle elevated levels of pollution in the country’s capital by vowing to ban all motorbikes from the city’s streets by 2030. With five million motorbikes currently in use in Hanoi – and 8,000 new machines being purchased across Vietnam every day – that’s quite a tall order.

Indeed, many sceptics of the ban believe it will be nigh on impossible to implement and fear it will fall by the wayside. However, the Vietnamese government are hopeful that the measure will go some way to improving air quality and reducing transport-related pollution, as well as relieving some of the congestion on the city’s overpopulated roadways.

An ambitious proposal

Despite the fact that the motorbike is by far the most popular method of travel in the Vietnamese capital, the Hanoi council voted unanimously in favour of the ban. In order to accommodate those who rely on the two-wheeled vehicle to commute to work, they also plan to ensure that at least half of the population are using public transport by 2030. At present, just 12% do so.

Hanoi’s relatively small size and rapidly growing population (up from less than five million in 2000 to over seven million last year) has meant that the city’s streets have quickly become congested with a flotilla of motorbikes. Some estimates claim that there are already 2,500 motorbikes for every km2, while over 8,000 new bikes were sold nationwide every day in the first half of 2016. That figure dwarfs the number of cars being sold, which was just 750 per day.

The vast number of bikes contributes to Hanoi’s terrible levels of air quality. According to findings by the NGO watchdog Green ID, the city suffered from “excessive” levels of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) on almost 300 days last year. As such, air pollution is seen as a huge threat to public health and the government have investigated alternative sources of renewable energy, among other efforts to alleviate the problem.

Critics unconvinced

While the ubiquity of the motorbike is the chief contributing factor to its emissions, it’s also the biggest obstacle to phasing it out. With so many people reliant on the transport in order to get around, many sceptics struggle to see how the infrastructure would be able to support a switch away from the bike.

As roads are already congested with bikes, an increase in popularity for cars would simply make the problem worse; as such, a huge boost in public transport services is needed for the city council to achieve its aims. That’s a boost that local resident Ngo Ngoc Trai doesn’t envisage coming to pass.

“The city is too crowded while public transport hardly exists. For example, there is no underground system in Vietnam. Only in June did Hanoi pilot the first two-storey bus in some routes,” he told the BBC. “Looking back at the history, I don't trust any long-term plan here. The government used to say Vietnam would become an industrialised country by 2020. Now everyone realises this plan has failed.”

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