HCM City is a city filled with charm and this includes its various modes and culture of transportation. Enter the street and you will see buses, trucks, vans, mini-trucks, SUVs, cars and taxis, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, cyclos, motorized or pedaled tri-carts, even wheelchairs. They are driven by everyone from burly truckers to business people, laborers and farmers to young children. The vast majority of the vehicles people here utilize are two-wheeled, which allows for great mobility and flexibility.
Driving in Saigon can be great fun. The best mode of transport is the motorbike and from it you experience a refreshing sense of freedom, move about quickly and conveniently, take in the sights, inhale the wonderful scent of cooking food and fruit, chat with strangers and witness the stunning elegance and beauty of Vietnamese women. Taking part in the spontaneous public promenades around Saigon on Sunday evenings is alternately fascinating, hilarious and romantic.
But the problems here are also great: there are too many people, the streets are narrow, buses and trucks stake their turf with ear-shattering horns; there is an epidemic of speeding, reckless driving and flaunting of traffic rules. Everyone is competing for the same-usually narrow-space and people regularly run red lights, drive on the sidewalks and against traffic, carry too may people or too much freight, talk on their phones, cut off other drivers and pedestrians.
How can the problems be solved? Through a variety of methods including city planning, legislation and the cooperation of the people, it is clear to any observer that Saigon has far outgrown its workable capacity to adequately serve its population. City planners must work to keep its population from growing and to provide opportunities for people to move to homes and jobs in neighboring provinces. Streets and sidewalks must be widened, improved and better maintained. The drainage system must be improved because during the rainy season daily storms flood streets too easily. More bridges must be built, existing ones must be improved.
As for traffic control, more streets must be made one-way, and some main thoroughfares must be changed to be for four-wheel vehicles only, others to two wheels only. Certain major streets should become one-way during morning and evening rush hours, which would greatly facilitate traffic flow. All driving against traffic and on sidewalks must be banned and violators effectively punished. Release times from factories, offices and schools should be staggered so that millions of people don't pour into the streets at the same time every evening, as happens now. Parking areas must be constructed so that people won't park in the street or on sidewalks, and so parents won't wait in the streets while picking up their children from school, which is the source of some of the worst traffic delays.
As noted above, at any time there can be up to a dozen different types of vehicles in the streets. Traffic jams-as well as accidents-are often caused by too much variety in the size, speed and handling characteristics of vehicles. Therefore, the city should ban certain types of vehicles from its streets, especially cylcos and tri-carts. These vehicles are slow, erratic, poorly equipped for handling or braking, and are most often poorly driven. Eliminating them would solve many problems. Surely the government can buy up used motorbikes for these men so they can become xe om drivers, or retrain them for different jobs.
To their credit, officials are working on the problems. Police are far more vigilant in the streets, and the recently installed traffic divider on Cach Mang Thang Tam from Le Loi up to Bui Thi Xuan is providing welcome relief to a once-congested and dangerous area. Also, patience is needed; it's a growing city and changes must be evoked that foresee the long term, not just the short.
Perhaps most important for the long term, a nationwide campaign for safety and respect for traffic laws must be conducted in the media and schools to educate people-and then the laws must be rigorously enforced. But it really comes down to how people behave. Safe driving in Saigon is, in the end, a matter of civic responsibility. The people must decide to respect themselves and their city and thus take it upon themselves to drive properly. It is within the self that the strongest law reigns. Saigonese are a great and resourceful people; they can succeed at this just as they've succeeded at so many other things.