Bus transport still unpopular in HCM City hinh anh 1People catch a bus in downtown HCM City. Theft, sexual harassment, poor safety standards and bad behaviour make bus transport a poor choice for urban residents. — VNA/VNS
City authorities have spent more than 1 trillion VND (45.5 million USD) annually for the bus system in recent years, but poor service quality and a high accident rate continue to drive customers away. 

The busiest bus route in the city is on Dinh Bo Linh street in BinhThanh district, near a major bus station.

Buses run in all lanes on the street, with vehicle exhaust affecting motorbike drivers. However, even during peak hours, an 80-seat bus on the busiest route in the city transports only 30 to 40 customers.

"The buses are not really cheap," a passenger named Minh was quoted as saying in Tin Tuc (News) newspaper.

Few passengers travel on only one route, and often have to transfer. Though the basic fee is 5,000 VND (20 cents), passengers have to pay an additional 10,000-15,000 VND if they have to change buses two or three times.

They often have to walk or hire a motorbike taxi to go to another bus stop.

"Bus fare expenses are sometimes higher than the cost of petrol people would pay to run their motorbike, and when passengers buy monthly tickets to save expenses, we often see a bad attitude from bus staff," Minh the passenger said.

The city's People's Council, however, has said that poor service quality was due to the lack of passengers on bus routes.

Local residents are also concerned about theft and sexual harassment on buses that do not follow their prescribed route or miss their scheduled times. Lack of safety and bad behaviour on the buses are other problems.

By the end of this year, the bus system is expected to meet only 10 percent of transport demand, compared to the targeted 15 percent or 600 million passengers.

For the first six months of this year, the bus system transported 270 million passengers, a drop of 6.1 percent compared with the same period last year.

The average number of customers on each trip fell by 5.1 percent, with nearly 40 passengers each trip.

The city's subsidy for the bus system has not been sufficient to maintain high quality services. The city has spent over 1 trillion VND (45.5 million USD) to subsidise buses based on the number of sold tickets.

Transport experts said figures from the Transport Department on the number of sold tickets were inaccurate.

Bus conductors who collect ticket fares from customers on buses often under-report the number of tickets they have sold. They pocket the rest for themselves.

"Other countries have subsidised their bus systems based on detailed routes, the number of customers and the number of buses," Dr. Pham Sanh, a transport expert, said.

"If city authorities don't change the way they provide subsidies for the bus system, the number of customers will continue to drop, and the quality will not improve," he added.

The city's Transport Department said that since 2005 the city had implemented subsidy bidding, but few transport companies had taken part in bidding.

Another problem is that bus companies often charge higher passenger prices than the city's approved prices.

A representative of transport enterprises said the city's policy on transport bidding was not practical and that information about the number of customers and the prediction about an expected increase in passengers was inaccurate.

One route, for example, had been expected to see an increase of customers by 5 percent annually, but the figure has been only 1 percent.

In addition, the time for the winning bid to be in effect is only three years, too short for enterprises to take back investment.

"Meanwhile, other bus routes are stable but the city has not included them in the bidding. Some routes with a high number of passengers can be bid without a subsidy," he said.-VNA