Another voice of protest
By Son Nguyen in HCMC
The consensus has built up over the need to fight traffic congestion, especially in Hanoi and HCMC, but when it comes to specifics, outcries are deafening as all the solutions point to the easiest approach for authorities: collecting fees from the people. Normally, the public protest is the strongest, as the people will be those to bear the brunt of losses.
The case in HCMC is by no means different, when all walks of life have in the past many weeks voiced their concerns over a tentative scheme to charge a fee on automobiles entering the city’s center. When the scheme is fleshed out at a meeting convened by the HCMC government this week, another voice is heard: the objection from State agencies.
At the meeting this Monday, the city’s Department of Transport unveiled the scheme prepared by Tien Phong Company, better known as ITD Corporation, to install equipment this year along major gateways into the city’s center. As per the presentation, all vehicles upon entry into the center will be charged a fee ranging from VND30,000 to VND70,000 through an On Board Unit (OBU) fitted in each automobile. This project, says ITD Corporation CEO Lam Thieu Quan, should be developed under the Build-Transfer-Operate (BTO) format at a cost of nearly VND1.3 trillion, or some US$63 million, meaning the company will be refunded by the city government after the project is put into operation.
In his presentation, the CEO touts the project as highly beneficial for the city, as each day it will collect toll fees totaling VND3.2 billion, or some VND1.2 trillion a year, while the people will save on a combined VND16 billion each day owing to better traffic circulation and thus less fuel and slower vehicular depreciation, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. Quan also asserts that the project will break even after ten years.
At the meeting, ITD Corporation warns the city government against expanding 30 major routes in the city center to accommodate some 800,000 automobiles by 2017, since “such a huge investment program is very costly and thus unviable,” CEO Quan is quoted on Tuoi Tre.
The vision is also bright, according to the investment scheme, when the number of automobiles entering the center will be reduced by nearly 70% while the number of motorcycles will increase by 13%, easing the traffic overload in the center, says Vnexpress.
The project does not heap praise from State agencies as expected, however, as many officials have claimed that the investor has not thought twice when selling the idea. Several officials representing State agencies, from the Department of Finance and the Department of Construction to HCMC Police and the city’s Institute for Development Research even reject the project as unfeasible.
The Department of Finance points out that the city will have to spend heavily on equipment for the project and devices for vehicles of State organs, let alone the daily budget for State vehicles, according to Sai Gon Tiep Thi. The department also cites the project’s report showing that the toll revenue will increase after each year, meaning that the number of vehicles to the city center will increase, so the ultimate goal of fighting traffic congestion is not achieved.
The HCMC Police Department, meanwhile, says that vehicles when shunning the city center will overwhelm peripheral areas, worsening the traffic situation there. Furthermore, traffic congestion is not the worst in central quarters now, but mostly in outlying areas leading to the center.
From another angle, the Department of Construction predicts strong objections from owners of parking projects, including underground parking plans, being developed in the city if the project ever proves successful in pulling down the number of vehicles, according to Sai Gon Tiep Thi.
The Institute for Economic Research of HCMC is worried that if the number of motorcycles increases by 13%, the bad vision is that the center will be overwhelmed with this private means of transport, which is already a nightmare, says Vnexpress.
In Tuoi Tre, the Institute for Development Research frets about financial damages to the city if the project is to be developed under the BTO format and later turn out unsuccessful, while the investor will remain unscathed.
Even the Department of Transport as the project owner is also worried about traffic chaos outside the city center, and the city will have to build many parking projects in the suburbs to meet the demand there, says Sai Gon Giai Phong.
Thanh Nien ponders the goal of the project, whether it is to fight congestion or only to create revenue for the city’s coffers and the investor. In the same tone, Sai Gon Tiep Thi asks if the project is for the sake of traffic or for the sake of toll fee collection. The newspaper also quotes officials as saying the project is not beneficial for the society.
In summing up the meeting, HCMC Vice Chairman Nguyen Huu Tin asserts in Tuoi Tre that that socio-economic efficiency must be the top goal, and therefore, he urges the investor to attend to all critical responses from State agencies. Alongside the public protest against the toll fee plan, objections from State officials regarding this project are another voice to demand feasible solutions for fighting traffic congestion.
The Saigon Times Daily