The Shame Of Saigon’s Traffic Chaos

Traffic jams in HCM City are worsening as a result of the growing number of vehicles and of infrastructure projects. But people’s disregard of traffic rules is the biggest reason.

My working week started with angry words from a colleague in the editorial staff about the battle he had getting to work because of traffic jams.
Traffic jams have become a well-worn topic in this city, which is said to be resident or temporary home to seven million people and three million motorbikes. Despite the development of its road system since 1975, given the fact that the city’s population has more than doubled, the road improvements are paltry.

My colleague also noted that traffic was congested even on Le Loi Boulevard, a vast space considering the size of most streets in HCM City.
Traffic jams in Saigon are inevitable, as predicted years ago when the country embraced elements of a market-oriented economy. But there are several new reasons for the matter to become worse recently.
Many big infrastructure projects are under way in HCM City and they are making traffic congestion worse. Take the project to improve the water quality and environment, a mammoth US$190-million project financed by the World Bank. To save space for construction, many sections of streets essential to traffic have been narrowed and become bottlenecks, making travel a nightmare. Similarly, temporary bridges built after the blocking of Calmette, Chu Y and Cha Va bridges have failed to ensure a smooth traffic flow during peak hours.
Even a project that aims to reduce traffic jams is making the situation worse at the moment: the expansion of the Nguyen Van Troi-Nam Ky Khoi Nghia route linking Tan Son Nhat Airport with the downtown.
Another reason for the worsening traffic congestion, many argue, is the rapidly rising number of new motorbikes after the restriction on motorbikes was lifted last year.
Vietnam imposed such a restriction in 2003 to curb the growing fleet of motorbikes. But the ban was removed after lawmakers said it went against the will of the people and it was against law as it stands.
The authorities have embarked on a campaign to replace motorbikes with buses. During the last three years, HCM City has introduced about 1,000 buses to raise the total number to almost 3,300. Yet during the same period, nearly 780,000 new motorbikes rolled out on to the streets, the municipal Committee for Traffic Safety reports. Statistics from the city’s traffic police show that each day 700 new motorbikes are registered.
Coupled with the expanding motorbike fleet is the mounting number of automobiles. In 2001, 11,000 cars of different kinds were registered in HCM City. But during the last three years, more than 100,000 automobiles joined the city’s car fleet, which numbers more than 300,000 now! And the figure is predicted to be bigger year by year.
Despite the growing number of vehicles, some domestic and foreign observers say traffic jams are getting worse mostly due to the lack of awareness of good behavior of people in the streets.
People disregard traffic laws and forget that courtesy also applies to fellow drivers. Second, there is poor enforcement of traffic regulations. These are the real culprits behind the worsening situation in HCM City as well as in Vietnam’s big cities, the observers say.
Ask a foreigner in Vietnam, a resident or a tourist, about the biggest problems Vietnam is facing, and one of the answers will be the traffic chaos! Some even say the disregard of traffic rules should be the cause of shame among all Vietnamese.
Hardly had my colleague finished his complaining about traffic jams than another said she was hit by a careless motorcyclist at the gate of our office. “The man was driving his motorbike on the sidewalk. I was hurt but fortunately not badly.”
We have heard too enough complaints on traffic jams, but what have we done to curb them? So, when taking to the streets, ask yourself the same question.


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