City Metro looking at commercial gains along routes

(ĐTTCO) - The People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City recently set up a research team to study various policies to exploit land funds along the Metro No. 1 route for commercial benefits by maximizing use of land, and thereby increasing the budget capital for the City.

City Metro looking at commercial gains along routes

Speaking with Saigon Investment, Asso. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Minh Hoa, an expert on many related issues in many countries across the world, expressed his views on this new proposal.

Asso. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Minh believes that compared to many other countries, the development of the Metro network in Vietnam is coming far too late and far too slowly. In the world, most cities with more than five million people have already invested in an effective Metro transport system, because it is a fast way to commute, is punctual, safe and able to carry a large number of passengers. The Metro network in the Soviet Union was first established as early as in 1935 in the City of Moscow. Many other Southeast Asian countries have already built a good metro system many years back, such as Bangkok in 1996, Singapore in 1987, and Manila in 1970.

Thus, the construction of a Metro network system in Ho Chi Minh City is currently coming in 25 years after it was first introduced in some Southeast Asian countries. The first Metro Line between Ben Thanh and Suoi Tien in Ho Chi Minh City started in 2012,  and will have taken ten full years to complete if put into operation by 2021, while in other countries in the region, the time to operate on the first route took Singapore only three years, Philippines took four years, and Bangkok took six years.

JOURNALIST: - Sir, how should the Metro Line No. 1 be put into operation to meet the expectations of the people of Ho Chi Minh City and for the State that is investing huge capital?

Asso. Prof. Dr. NGUYEN MINH HOA: - The structure of Metro Line No.1 is evolving day by day, and people are putting their trust in the Metro system in the hope that it will play a crucial role in resolving the present problems in public transportation. However, in order to realize this dream, there are many things to sort out right now.

First of all, it is important to understand that the Metro is not just a normal form of transport that picks up passengers in the same way as buses or taxis do, but it is a combination of very technical and socio-economic systems. In countries such as Russia, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Thailand, the Metro system is integrated with many functions concerning social needs such as public travel, shopping, essential services and housing.

At each metro station, especially at the main station where two to three or more Metro Lines intersect, it becomes an important space for utilization of services and shopping areas with supermarkets, small shops and customer services for billing and such use. People using the Metro to commute can buy  necessary and basic items for daily needs at such points without having to commute elsewhere, from buying cell phone charging cards to food items.

So far, the Ben Thanh to Suoi Tien Metro route has completed the technical construction requirement of bridge and main station, but has not yet considered the development of utility service areas in each stop station. This may be because it is already too late, and because the land along the Metro Line and around the stop stations has been speculated and purchased by investors or local residents. Without supportive service complexes, the Metro will become just a regular form of transportation, and the attractiveness will greatly reduce, and its potential not fully utilized.

Another problem facing the Metro Network System is on how to get people to travel to the various station stops from their residences, many of which could be living very far from the Metro Line. People living within a couple of km radius of stations like Ben Thanh, Thao Dien, An Phu, An Khanh can walk there everyday, but for those who are living further away, a reasonable solution still has to be worked out.

If there are no bus lines, small transport could be provided, such as the Tuk Tuk service in Bangkok, Jeepney in Manila, and mini buses in Jakarta. It is also likely that Metro stations need a larger area to park motorbikes or bicycles for daily commuters, so they can return to their homes easily. If this problem is not resolved, the risk of people losing interest in the Metro Line will become real.

Another problem that needs to be tackled is the fare amount for passengers. Investment in the Metro system has been huge, up to tens of billions of US dollars. The money has been on a loan, and the return of capital will be slow. Countries have to subsidize fares to reach out to the masses, even suffer heavy losses, but in return for other benefits such as reduced traffic jams, less pollution, less travel time, and low accident rates, this effort seems worthwhile.

Hence, even though fares may be partially subsidized, the Metro still has to sell tickets in large numbers to be able to maintain full operations and offer best of services. Therefore, the calculation of fare rates is extremely important, so that the State has revenue and passengers are also satisfied. For passengers, if the ticket price is too high for their actual monthly income, they will refuse to use the Metro Line, even if the service provided is the best.

Currently those countries having a Metro system are providing subsidies in fares, but their fare rate is still quite high for income level of the Vietnamese people. For example, the ticket price from Changi International Airport to China Town in the center of Singapore covering 22km is SGD 1.83 per person, which is equivalent to VND 30,000 for a Vietnamese person. In Bangkok, from Suvarnabhumi International Airport to central Bangkok covering 30km costs 45 baht, against VND 30,000 in Vietnam.

For the Metro Line in Ho Chi Minh City, suppose that the price is VND 40,000 for a two-way fare, it is still high for the average income of most people which is around VND 5,000,000 to VND 6,000,000 per month. The Metro for most people will therefore not necessarily become the optimum means of transport, including for many workers, students and office goers.

- Sir, how do we turn the Metro route into a socio-economic system for the people?

- In my opinion, making the Metro Line No. 1 route into a multi-purpose complex is very difficult. First, underground drilling is very expensive and time consuming. This then can be put up in parallel with the road axis or along canals to shorten construction time, quickly put into operation, and relieve the City from its present deadlock of public transport.

Second, the fact that Metro routes are not attractive for short distances, with each station about two km apart, people feel they can use motorcycles more easily, and will only choose to use the Metro for longer distances. In such case, the long routes from Bien Hoa City to Ben Thanh, from Long Thanh International Airport to Ben Thanh Station can offer fares from VND 40,000 to VND 50,000, which people may not mind paying.

- Thank you very much.

Do Tra Giang (Interviewer)

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