As it was announced earlier this month that transport authorities in Ho Chi Minh City are considering launching a bicycle-sharing system, Tuoi Tre News has asked foreigners for their opinions on what the possible advantages and challenges of the plan are.
The public bicycle scheme, according to the Ho Chi Minh City Management Centre of Public Transport, will allow people to borrow a bike from a dock and return it at another dock belonging to the same system, with the dock locking and unlocking, and paying features done via a mobile app.
Some enterprises have proposed to bringing the scheme to Ho Chi Minh City.
According to the proposition of one of the companies, around 800 to 1,000 bicycles will be used in the first phase of their project, with 70 to 80 docks to be built in District 1. The rental fee is expected to be VND5,000 (US$0.22) per 30 minutes.
While all projects are still proposed and city transport authorities have made no official decision yet, foreigners interviewed by Tuoi Tre News said the implementation of such a plan won’t be without challenges.
Two big issues
As a sports cyclist I ride weekly around the city, mostly for exercise but I do try to replace occasional trips on my motorbike with a ride on my bicycle when possible.
In the current condition in Ho Chi Minh City, it is very difficult to ride a bicycle. There are a number of challenges and it is, in my opinion, more dangerous than riding a motorbike. Also, safe parking is a big issue around the city. My bicycle is worth the same as my motorbike but, unlike the heavy motorcycle, a bicycle can be picked up and carried even if it is locked. Shopping malls and parking lots don't offer posts to secure bicycles to the ground.
Cities around the world have had mixed success with the rental bikes. In successful cities, like Amsterdam, I think it’s not a successful bike hire scheme that will work but it’s an overall bicycle culture in the community with a hire-a-bike scheme as an additional service that makes it a success.
In the worst cases, oversupply and lack of securing facilities have seen bicycles being thrown into rivers, stolen and damaged. They became nothing more than garbage on the streets.
There are two big issues. If bikes are freely available to ride anywhere, they become a hazard in back streets and are often vandalized. If, on the other hand, they are locked into docking stations, it is much better but the ability to use them is greatly reduced because you must end your trip at a docking station and walk the rest of the way. People will prefer other methods such as taxi and share car/bike services.
Another issue is that there is no current bicycle culture in Ho Chi Minh City. Everyone rides a motorbike so bringing in a bicycle hire service will not be an easy fit into the community there. Also, there are no bike paths so sharing the roads with motorbikes will be a challenge for many locals and expats.
However, I believe there will be a section of the population that will try the service and there will be some that will use it regularly. Bicycles are the way of the future. Both traditional and the new electric assisted bicycles are growing in popularity all over the world. I believe giving bicycles their own space on the roads is the single biggest thing any government can do to promote the use of bicycles. Additionally, more needs to be done to secure bicycles whilst parked. Beside, allow bicycles to be carried on buses, trains, ferries and other public transport for free would also encourage people.
Ray Kuschert from Australia
‘Build as many stations as possible’
I live in Taiwan and Japan, and in both places people are used to riding bicycles quite often, especially on sunny days. In Taiwan, we have an urban bicycle service where you can rent a bike in one station and return it at another station. This is a great way to make public transportation more accessible and more convenient. The bike rental is also a good way for the youth to spend their free time, especially college students.
Having had a positive experience with bike-sharing services, I am more than supportive of it being installed in Ho Chi Minh City even though I have to say there are going to be challenges at first, with the most common ones being hot weather and the lack of infrastructure. That being said, I do not think they are serious enough to prevent all people from using this service, especially considering that the bike service is designed for short distances.
As traffic in Vietnam is quite heavy, it might be more dangerous to ride these bicycles. Moreover, most of such services do not have helmets and if something bad happens, people will start being doubt about further investment in the urban bike system. Hence, this is a point government should also put into consideration.
Another problem that Taiwan came across was bikes being stolen, so there will need to be a method to prevent that as well.
Since there will be some challenges to discourage people from using the bikes when they are first introduced, I think authorizations should take action to encourage the use of these bikes. Some of the most effective ways in Vietnam would be lowering the price and building as many stations as possible to make the bikes more accessible and more convenient. That way, the distance people have to walk from the station to their actual destination would be shortened considerably. Eventually, more people would be using the bikes.
Lu Ling Kai from Taiwan
Lack of infrastructure
In Canada, there are a number of cities with urban bike services, and they have had different levels of success. As far as I know, Montreal has one of the most successful ones, but a similar model didn’t work so well in Toronto. For me, it seems that Montreal has invested more in bike paths and separate bike lanes compared to other cities, and this helps to make people feel safe while bicycling. Along with this, the service has an excellent app that provides plenty of information and makes it incredibly easy to use.
I’m not sure if people in Ho Chi Minh City would use it initially, but I think it could be something that people might adopt over time. Changing the ways that people travel can take time, and a lot more needs to be done along with simply installing the stations and offering the bikes.
I think a lack of infrastructure, especially dedicated bike paths and lanes, could be a major obstacle. Hot weather might keep a lot of expats from using them, but I think perhaps those who live in the city long-term might get used to it. Personally, the air pollution would also be a concern for me. Bicycling requires physical work, as compared to cars and scooters, so people will be exposed to the dirty air even more as they bike around the city. A mask could help, but many tourists and other people who may decide to rent a bike randomly will not have such a thing with them.
Educating people about bike rules and usage is important too. Helping people understand their rights as cyclists in terms of where they can use a bicycle, how to signal, who has the right of way at intersections, and other things is important. Along with this, drivers of other vehicles and pedestrians should know these things too. Providing a cheap way to access bicycles and offering something similar to an app or a map to show places in the city that can be accesses easily by bicycles will help too.
Ryan Patey from Canada