If you have yet to try the double-decker buses in Ho Chi Minh City, find some time to enjoy the service before its scheduled demise by the end of this year.
There is only one pair of two-story buses in the southern Vietnamese city, operated by local firm Quyet Thang Cooperative.
The company is set to retire the buses by the end of this year as operations are no longer profitable, according to director Phung Dang Hai.
The double-decker buses, capable of carrying 120 people each, were put into use in February 2005 in the hope of boosting municipal public transportation, and attracting tourists to tour around the city.
Hai attributed the decision to retire the buses to financial issues.
While it costs twice the price to buy a double-decker bus, the subsidy is only a little higher, he said.
Most buses in Ho Chi Minh City are subsidized by the local budget, so that they can offer affordable tickets to encourage the use of public transportation.
In 2009, Hai earmarked VND600 million (US$26,432) from the company’s budget to exchange the Chinese-made engines of the buses with South Korean ones.
The upgrade, however, resulted in smaller subsidy amounts, with local authorities explaining that “the buses were more fuel-efficient, so they require less financial support,” Hai recalled.
Costs also grew for Quyet Thanh Cooperative when repairs or spare part replacement for the double-decker buses were required, as these were also much higher than conventional vehicles.
“It takes seven years for a conventional bus to reach full depreciation, while the time for the two-story vehicles is 13 years,” he said.
“What’s worse is that following the engine upgrade, the lifespan of my double-deckers dropped to only 15 years from 20 years.”
For all of these reasons, Hai said her company had no choice but to cease the double-decker service at the end of this year.
“We will put the vehicles up for sale for VND100 million [$4,400] each,” he said.
Stay or go?
The double-decker buses are currently being used on the No.6 route, connecting Nong Lam University in Thu Duc District with the Cho Lon Bus Station in District 6.
One Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter boarded a No.6 bus on Monday morning from Thu Duc and found that the vehicle was full, mostly with students, during rush hours.
A ticket attendant confirmed that the buses were much less occupied during off-peak times.
Students interviewed by Tuoi Tre said they enjoyed traveling on the double-decker buses and believed that the vehicle helped reduce traffic congestion in the city, as they could carry twice the number of passengers at one time.
Nguyen Ba Hoang, from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Transport, said a statistical study must be conducted to determine whether to keep the service or not.
Tran Chi Trung, director of the city’s bus operation center, said his unit would work with the double-decker bus operator this week to review the subsidy policy for the vehicles.
Trung added that as many as 70 percent of streets citywide are not wide enough to handle the double-decker buses.
“However, we will still consider whether or not to develop this kind of operation in the 2025-30 plan for the city’s public transport development,” he said.