6. Hanoi current “locked” transportation situation

Automobile has always play a major role during the course of development, and two-wheeled transport has always been favored by Hanoi. It is a trend initiated during French colonization, which bicycle is used as the main transportation device, while motorbikes are just luxurious device. However, after Doi Moi reformation, Hanoi’s economy got a lot stronger and people got richer. As a result, motorbike ownership has rapidly increased from four hundred thousand to now four million in Hanoi alone, which according to AFD, there is an already percentage of four motorbike owners within every five household during 2008. And now, as Hanoi’s economy continue grows, a new automobile regime starts to emerge, four-wheel vehicles, one that signifies a higher social status with greater safety and better comfort. But the increase in size also limits its potential and applicability to be used within the narrow and congested roads that dominates Hanoi’s most traffic condition. As a result, it is mostly visible at the outskirt of Hanoi, but rarely within the inner city, especially in Ancient quarter.

With abundant ownership of motorbikes being an unexpected outcome, and no other means of well established transportation. The rise of Four-wheel vehicles being non-applicable is just one of the few problems Hanoi is dealing with. Others also includes high traffic accidents rates and high polluted air emission, caused by Hanoi’s congested traffic and high motorbike usage respectively.

Fig 1. Hanoi’s Ancient Quarter common traffic situation

The air pollution produced by motorbikes usage alone is a huge problem that requires immediate attention. According to a study conducted by Nguyen Viet hung and Le Thi Thanh Huong in 2008, within Asian cities Hanoi was the city with the highest level of air pollution, in which motorbikes accounts for 95% of the air emission from all vehicles. Government authorities had once tried to abolish the usage of motorbikes, yet without other means of transport, and motorbikes being a significant element along city’s development, the proposal soon receives huge rejection from the public and end up dismissed. As banning motorbikes is no longer an option, government has decided to promote bus services (Hanoi’s only public transport) to encourage people to switch from private vehicles to public transport, yet with insignificant supply of buses and an urban landscape developed with motorbike in mind. It is just impossible for people to live their current lifestyle without the flexible mobility that can only be supported by motorbikes.

In addition to the situation of four-wheel vehicle not being an option within the old areas, the unplanned organic built infrastructure is so poor that sidewalks are completely fed up parked motorbikes. Not pedestrians but motorbikes, which forces people to abandon other means of transport like waking or cycling, even though their destination might just be few blocks away. It is just safer and faster. “I cannot imagine my life without a motorbike. No, that would be terrible!” an interviewee responds to interview conducted by Arve Hansen in 2015.

In respond, the “locked transportation” situation of Hanoi reflects one of the defect of minimal governing. By letting things go naturally without any strong interference base on any predictions does continue the stability of a society. Yet, it also increased the difficulties in changing any built element, that is motorbikes, in our case. Fortunately, in new urban areas infrastructure is well established, and allows the emerge of four-wheel vehicles and other means of public transportation.


Hansen, Arve. “Transport in transition: Doi moi and the consumption of cars and motorbikes in Hanoi.” Journal of Consumer Culture (2015): 1469540515602301, 7-10, 14-17.

Ng, Poh Yen, and Phung Phuong. “From Motor Biking to Public Transportation, What Matters in Hanoi?.” World 6, no. 2 (2015), 1-3.

2 Comments on “6. Hanoi current “locked” transportation situation

  1. I have always heard of people describing the city of Hanoi as a city with more motorbikes than households. Hanoi is such an unique city as its mobility is mainly informed and developed by informal transportation. I really appreciate your effort in examining how this two-wheeled transport has played an important role in its urban development from the colonial to the contemporary. Motorbikes have always been favoured as the superior transportation mechanism throughout the history of city, I am really curious about the patterns of use of public space in relation to it. As you mentioned in your text that streets and pedestrians, which are usually the locus for convivial public activities are in fact chaotic parking plots in the city of Hanoi. Where and what are the public spaces in the city that serve as concrete location for everyday spatial construction? How will you envision the urban landscape based on its preset narratives to be changed by the future imposition of public transportation such as the Metro?

  2. I was in a talk previously in P&T office and they had several projects in Hanoi. They noticed the similar problems you mentioned, that cars or vehicles are being individualistic. Their projects were planning for a new city in Hanoi and they suggested connecting the newly built cities internally and externally through railways. However, the client did not prefer using railway. The client has a huge preference on large scale infrastructure like arterial roads and flyovers. I guess such mentality is almost embedded in Hanoi.

    I am ok if your focus is on the streetscape or everyday experience as a manifestation to urbanism of Hanoi. I would be more curious about the experience of motorbike in Hanoi context. For example, what was the experience before and what is it now. How does population growth and increase of motorbike license affect urban mobility? It might be an interesting question to explore.

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