The first-ever Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Hanoi is off to a rough start, with its effectiveness already doubted just two weeks ahead of launch.
The modern transit system, spanning a 14.7km route between Yen Nghia and Kim Ma bus stations in the capital city, is poised to begin operation on January 1, 2017.
A ‘technical run’ of the BRT system had been planned for Thursday, though authorities eventually canceled the test, saying that buses had already passed a previous examination on December 12.
While authorities are upbeat that the BRT will facilitate mobility for the capital’s residents, widespread skepticism exists amongst critics that the system will not be as effective as expected.
From January 1, 29 90-seater buses will begin running on the BRT route at three to five minute intervals. At a speed of 19.6 kph, a ride will take 45 minutes, a significant cut in travel time for busy city dwellers.
The US$55 million BRT system, funded by the World Bank, calls for busses on the route to drive in a specific lane, with 21 stops located on the median strips of the streets within the route.
Some BRT stations are connected with pedestrian overpasses and others require passengers to cross the street, as normal.
As of Thursday afternoon, new street lines to separate lanes exclusive for the BRT zone from the rest of the street had been painted, and new pedestrian crossing signals had been installed at some BRT stations, though many still remain unfurnished and without equipment.
Many doubt that the BRT will reduce traffic congestion and instead believe that it will only worsen traffic jams on many of the busy streets it runs on, including To Huu Street.
“There is a traffic jam every morning on this street at the intersection with Khuat Duy Tien Street,” Bang Giang, a frequent commuter on To Huu, said.
“Now that part of the [To Huu] street is separated for the BRT, I cannot begin to imagine how much worse traffic gridlock will be.”
Dr. Nguyen Xuan Thuy, an urban traffic expert, said the maiden BRT system in Hanoi is a costly investment, given its delayed construction progress and complicated technology, which are “not suitable to Vietnamese current development conditions.”
Dr. Thuy said having the BRT lane next to motorbike and car lanes is too dangerous, and the rapid buses will eventually fail to run at full speed because there are too many intersections with conventional streets.
Assoc. Prof. and Dr. Nguyen Quang Toan, former dean of the road traffic department under the University of Transportation, said other vehicles are supposed to stop and give way to the BRT at the cross sections. But given the Vietnamese traffic habits, this is a real and obvious challenge.
Toan added that another concern is that people will avoid traveling on streets with the BRT lane, putting pressure on streets where traffic jams do not normally occur.
“There is definitely ground for these worries,” he said.
The professor, however, added that local citizens should share the hardship with authorities and “try to overcome these tough initial phase of the BRT.”