Sidewalks in Ho Chi Minh City are still being occupied by business operators, with some openly ‘sold’ between vendors, despite the local authorities’ recent efforts to reclaim the public space.
A recent investigation by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper revealed that several promenades in the southern hub are now owned and traded between local vendors.
Some ‘territories’ are even protected by gang members, paid to assist sellers in keeping the spaces from being occupied by other competitors, as well as dealing with the authorities’ inspections.
On March 2, Tuoi Tre reporters had parked their motorcycles on the sidewalk in front of the 115 People’s Hospital in District 10 when they were scared away by a young man.
A few minutes later, another man rushed to the journalists and threatened them with a knife.
“This space is not yours. Get out of here!” the man shouted.
Further along the footpath near the entrance to Cho Ray Hospital in District 5, the journalists were given similar warnings by another man.
He said that the pavement was already taken, adding that strangers could not enter the space.
“However, you can buy this location for VND50 million [US$2,205],” he continued.
On March 4, the reporters, under the guise of ‘sidewalk buyers,’ met a woman named V., who agreed to sell her section of the pavement in front of the National Hospital of Odonto-stomatology in District 5 for VND100 million ($4,411).
V. was a drink seller, whose ‘shop’ was basically a part of the sidewalk she claimed to own.
The woman promised to assist her ‘buyers’ in starting their business and dealing with the authorities whenever they inspect the area.
“If we have a deal, the space will be yours for good. You can use it or sell it to someone else,” V. assured them.
Several eateries continue to place their tables and chairs on footpaths despite the local authorities’ directive against such sidewalk encroachment.
At one coffee shop owned by P. on Pham Van Dong Street in Go Vap District, tables and chairs are often placed on the promenade during peak hours.
The owner confirmed that he sometimes had to pay some VND500,000 ($22) to a local officer, who would give him a heads-up before any inspection by local authorities.
An employee of a nearby beer bar claimed that the facility had to make regular payments to officers in order to be able to operate on the public space.
“It is not a bribe,” L., the owner, affirmed. “It’s just learning to adapt. The officers will simply inform me when a patrol takes place.”
Speaking to Tuoi Tre, Vo Minh Tri, chairman of the Go Vap People’s Committee, said that he would verify the reports and sanction those involved.
Makeshift parking lots
While many promenades in District 1 are now clear thanks to the measures of the local administration, some have been occupied by parking services.
At the corner of Ton That Hiep and Nguyen Hue Streets, motorbikes are parked in two long rows, taking up most of the public space and forcing pedestrians to walk on the roadway.
Parking costs VND5,000 ($0.22) per motorbike, one employee said, before adding that they were only allowed to place the vehicles in one row.
In front of the Cao Thang Technical College on Huynh Thuc Khang Street, students are charged VND10,000 ($0.44) per motorbike at a makeshift parking space.
Hundreds of vehicles are arranged in two rows on a 100 meter section of the pavement.
According to Nguyen Cong Thanh, vice-principal of the college, the parking lot is not managed by them.
Operators of the parkade said that they had been permitted to run the service, with signatures from the head of the local military command.
However, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Phong, chief of the District 1 Military Command, said that he had not given any such permission.
Vice-chairman of District 1 Doan Ngoc Hai has tasked local officers with inspecting and dealing with the violations of such parking lots.