Walk Tall!

Will Hanoi people take the Metro?

Hays Hui, Hanoi

Imagine that every single carriage of a Metro train and each bus is empty, drivers are the only passenger. Instead, people are moving around by a motorcycle. A motorcycle gives them the ability to move from any point of the city to another point, without the bother of the Metro schedule. They can arrive any corner of the city within thirty minutes. The cost of a motorcycle is affordable and it is just similar to the cost of using Metro. The government is promoting the virtues of the Metro system, while the price of diesel is becoming lower and lower. If you ask people in Hanoi which transportation mode they like most, they will tell you the motorcycle is always the best.

Systra Hanoi aims to achieve 35-45 percent of public transport mode share by 2020, under the Transport Master Plan to 2020 approved by Prime Minister (Phin & Dotson, 2013). One of the major provision in the plan is the implementation of 8 metro lines. The railway system is called Hanoi Metro. The whole system will cover a total of 160km with 130 stations. The metro system is divided into 8 sub-projects, in which five projects are currently in the research or construction stage. It is proposed that it will open to the public in 2030.

source: Systra

source: Systra

The decision to construct a Metro system is based on the need of an integrated transportation network in order to connect the entire city and reduce various social pressures. Since the extension of boundary of Hanoi in 2008, the explosive growth in population has not just brought an economic boom, it includes enormous travel demand within the city. Travel demand is closely related to the urban development and transportation system. As the society grows, the government has noticed that the transportation deteriorate into social problems, associated with air pollution, noise pollution, traffic congestion and negative impacts on children and the elderly. It reflects that fundamental changes would be necessary in order to reduce both the time and environment cost in movement. In response to the need, the implementation of a metro system is ongoing.

It seems everything would be perfect once the construction of the Metro is completed — if people are willing to take the Metro. According to JICA and Hanoi People’s Committee (2007), public transport uses accounted for only 6.7% of the total demand in 2006, while motorcycles accounted for 62.3% of all vehicular trips. Another importance figure is the annual 15% growth rate of motorcycles in Hanoi in recent years ,and there is already an average of more than one motorcycle per household (Phin & Dotson, 2013). Considering all these figures, Hanoi is therefore classified as a motorcycle dependence city, which means motorcycles are the dominant transportation mode (Kenworthy and Laube, 1999). It seems motorcycles are already a part of the local culture in Hanoi. The question here is” will people give up motorcycles?”

The development of motorcycle dependence is the result of different factors including highly dense urban area, lack of road hierarchy, and reasonable cost of motorcycles and fuel; the use of motorcycles further enhances the irregular housing development and lack of land use control (Ha et al., 2011; Khuat, 2007). The whole structure in Hanoi “favours” the usage of motorcycles. Due to the city structure, it is very difficult to give a comprehensive consideration to the locations of Metro stations. However, people can access everywhere easily by motorcycles. They neither need to wait for the Metro nor make a change during a journey. Furthermore, there is one recent research about the role of attitudes and public transport service on vehicle ownership in Ho Chi Minh, and it suggests that people in developing countries base their choices of travel modes mainly on income or other factors, rather than environmental concern and traffic congestion (Ho and Yamamoto, 2011). Unless the daily cost of using the Metro is significantly cheaper than motorcycles, there is no incentive for people to use the Metro.

From these points of view, it seems the major difficulty of the implementation of the Metro system would be the motorcycle dependence of Hanoi people. The reasonable cost of motorcycles and developed habit of local people would be the major obstacles. Increasing taxes on motorcycles, like the extraordinarily high taxes on vehicles in Vietnam, would be a possible solution. The ban on old motorcycles could be implemented together. The growth rate and number of motorcycles would be under control. Furthermore, it could give a chance for the general public to develop their habit of using the Metro. The challenge for policy-makers is to find a balance between the losses of mobility people are currently enjoying with motorcycles and the gains in advantages of the Metro system.

As an outsider living in Hanoi for more than 8 months, local people have kept asking me to move around by motorcycles. Through the conversations, you can realize that motorcycles are the extension of the body. The local people relax and enjoy a lot with motorcycles. However, it might be the time for them to get down from the motorcycles and get on the Metro. There are more and more challenges in Hanoi (boom in car and population), but Hanoi people can definitively overcome those challenges.


Ha, P. T. H., van den Bosch, F., Quang, N. N., & Zuidgeest, M. (2011). Urban Form and Accessibility to Jobs A Comparison of Hanoi and Randstad Metropolitan Areas. Environment and urbanization ASIA, 2(2), 265-285.
Ho, C. Q., & Yamamoto, T. (2011). The role of attitudes and public transport service on vehicle ownership in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
Government of Vietnam (2014) Vietnam Statistical Yearbook, General Statistics Office of Vietnam, Statistical Publisihing House, Hanoi
Japan International Cooperation Agency and Hanoi People’s Committee. (2007) The Comprehensive Urban Development Programme in Hanoi Capital City of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (HAIDEP), Final Report, Volume 1, Master Plan Study, JICA and Hanoi People’s Committee, Hanoi
Kenworthy, J. R., & Laube, F. B. (1999). Patterns of automobile dependence in cities: an international overview of key physical and economic dimensions with some implications for urban policy. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 33(7), 691-723.
Khuat, V. H. (2007). Traffic management in motorcycle dependent cities (Doctoral dissertation, TU Darmstadt).
Phin, Doan Thi and Dotson, Edward. (2013) Urban Transport Institutions and Governance and Integrated Land Use and Transport, Hanoi, Vietnam. In: Un-Habitat (ed). Planning and design for sustainable urban mobility: Global report on human settlements 2013. Taylor & Francis.

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