Ministry of Planning and Investment
Thursday, 30/11/2023
Living in Vietnam
First metro stirs hope Vietnam can match regional peers
Wednesday, 10/11/2021 09:31
First metro stirs hope Vietnam can match regional peers

The first metro route Vietnam has stirred hopes that the country will soon catch up with its regional peers, popularize public transportation and reduce traffic congestion.

Experts, however remain cautious and skeptical, saying such optimism is unwarranted at the moment.

"If I close my eyes I can’t tell whether I’m on a metro train in another country or in Vietnam," said Tran Ngoc Quynh, one of the first passengers to use the Cat Linh – Ha Dong Metro Route after it began operating last Saturday.

Quynh, a 70-year-old engineer, couldn’t sleep the night before as he had been waiting for the metro to run for 10 years. His family and friends are among those who had been relocated during the land acquisition process for the project.

"The train shows that Vietnam is not far behind other countries in development. We are moving in the right direction."

The Cat Linh – Ha Dong Metro Route, the latest public transport addition in Hanoi, where 8.3 million people reside, has kindled hopes and desire among local residents that the city ups its public infrastructure to the level or other ASEAN countries.

Nguyen Huu Khanh, who lives one kilometer away from a metro station, said that he was thinking about making metro his main means of transportation to and from work.

"I arrived 10 minutes earlier than usual with the metro. There was no traffic jam, and it was warmer than riding the motorbike," said the 30-year-old, who works for a startup.

The experience is similar to that of Thailand where he had worked for a couple of years, Khanh said.

Several Southeast Asian countries have had a head start over Vietnam in establishing metro networks.

Indonesia’s first metro line began operations in 2019, Thailand’s Bangkok got its Sky Train in 1999, while Singapore’s North-South Line started service in 1987.

Vietnam approved the Cat Linh – Ha Dong route in 2008 and targeted it becoming operational by 2013, but several hurdles in land acquisition, design changes and contractual conflicts delayed construction by eight years.

Despite the inordinate delay, the first metro route is a "historic" one, part of a network of metro route that will ease traffic burden on roads, Hanoi deputy chairman Duong Duc Tuan said at the inaugural ceremony Saturday.

The Cat Linh – Ha Dong route is one of 10 metro routes planned for Hanoi by 2030 with a total length of 417 kilometers - 82 percent of it elevated and the rest underground.

Another route, the Nhon – Hanoi Railway Station, is under construction. Its elevated section is set to become operational by the end of next year.

This route, built with French technology and standards, will be linked to the Cat Linh – Ha Dong route.

Tuan called for more investment into metros to boost their construction speed, noting that it is taking 8-10 years to complete a route in Vietnam.

Less is more

But some experts are concerned that the euphoria and "excessive" focus on metro routes are sidelining potentially troublesome issues.

"The lack of a bus network to bring people to the stations and the limited number of parking spaces will likely deter users from making the metro their main means of transport," said architect and urban planning expert Ngo Viet Nam Son.

A metro needs to have an occupancy rate of 80-90 percent to ensure profit. A lower rate could make this means of transport an economic burden as the government won’t be able to recoup its investment because higher fares are not an ideal solution, he told VnExpress International.

"Authorities seem to be so drawn toward building metros that they forget buses must be the main means public transport in a city," he said, adding that buses cost less to operate and offer users more travel options.

To improve the current metro network, authorities need to either sell bus and metro tickets together with lower fares, or give metro users free bus trips, Son said.

For future metro projects, the government could consider acquiring land alongside the line and auction them later to recoup its investment and create more organized urban areas where the metro goes, he suggested.

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