Two dozen BRT buses involved in a loaded test run in Hanoi on Thursday found themselves inching through a sea of motorbikes and cars seemingly oblivious to the lane dividers on the city’s streets.
After several unloaded and technical tests, the Hanoi transport department chose to launch one final test using volunteer passengers before the BRT system’s official launch, scheduled for December 31, 2016.
Twenty-four of the fleet’s 35 buses took part in the morning and late afternoon rush hour test runs between Yen Nghia bus station in the outer district of Ha Dong and Kim Ma station in Dong Da.
The morning and afternoon journeys took 54 and 56 minutes, respectively, falling short of the designed travel time of 45 minutes for the 14.7 km route.
All streets along the Kim Ma-Yen Nghia route are currently divided to provide an exclusive lane for the BRT next to the median, in theory allowing the modern buses to move quickly along the route.
Even with these measures, the buses’ failure to meet the designed schedule is no surprise.
Throughout the course of the projects, heavy doubts have circulated that poor Vietnamese driving habits will amend themselves and drivers will avoid crossing into the restricted lanes.
These doubts were confirmed during Thursday’s test run, when BRT buses were besieged by motorbikes and cars during the after-work rush hour, as if the BRT lane divider was nonexistent.
Rapid travel? Mission impossible
To combat the issues, traffic police officers were deployed to direct vehicles away from the BRT lane, though the efforts were in vain and officers were soon overwhelmed by the massive amount of vehicles.
In a country where concrete median strips often fail to deter against driving in the wrong lane, it is hard to expect people to respect a simple line painted on the streets.
At such streets as Giang Van Minh, Le Van Luong, and To Huu, the BRT buses found themselves stuck in heavy traffic.
Vu Ha, a representative of the BRT developer, said the results of the test run were nearly acceptable, given the traffic situation on the route and the fact that local residents are still unfamiliar with the BRT.
Nguyen Hoang Hai, director of the Hanoi’s traffic management center, called on city dwellers to show support for the BRT and stop driving on its exclusive lane.
“We call on everybody to create conditions for the BRT to travel smoothly,” he said.
“Having more BRT passengers will reduce the number of people traveling on the street so we hope everybody will support this system.”
Hai added that there is legal framework in place to penalize those who travel on the BRT lane.
“Besides encouraging people to respect the BRT lane, we will sanction those who deliberately violate the rule,” he said.