Professor Manfred Breithaupt, senior transport advisor for the German Society for International Cooperation, spoke to Viet Nam News about how Vietnamese cities can cope with rising numbers of personal vehicles.

* The Transport Ministry of Vietnam has proposed limiting personal vehicles entering the downtown area, but this has caused concerns by experts and the public alike, because personal vehicles are still the dominating force in Vietnam's urban cities. What are your thoughts about this?

Dealing only with the supply side while trying to satisfy increasing demand by building more road infrastructure will not help to solve the problems of increasing congestion and other adverse effects of motorized individual urban transport.

In this context, we welcome the government's decision to increase parking fees, traffic fines and also restricting and limiting vehicle entries, especially in the downtown area's of major cities.

Such restrictions can promote compact development of urban areas which, in turn, can help in creating more accessible and less automobile-dependent communities.

However, I would like to caution that such measures should be carefully planned holistically before being actually implemented, otherwise many private vehicle trips would simply shift to other parts of the city, resulting in no actual reduction in mileage or emissions.

It is best that such measures are combined and implemented together with other disincentives to driving and, at the same time, conditions for walking, cycling and public transportation (in terms of services, frequency and infrastructure) be improved. We call it the push and pull approach. We shall also not forget that such restrictions should be flexible enough to accommodate the travel demand patterns of vehicles used for business (taxis, delivery vehicles, vehicles used for construction work, etc.).

* Limiting personal vehicles has been used in cities around the world. However, those cities often have developed public transportation systems and infrastructure. For Vietnamese cities, what are the options we have, considering the less-developed picture?

It is important to understand that cities which have successfully implemented such measures have, in the past, faced similar situations as to those the Vietnamese cities are facing today, namely congestion, pollution, increased fatalities and a decreasing quality of life.

However, through institutional and regulatory reforms these cities have transformed themselves and still continue to do so.

The first step towards countering the exponential growth of personal vehicles is to provide high quality public transport.

This should be supported by prioritizing public transport investments and non-motorised transport (NMT) related infrastructures, compared to building flyovers, widening of road lanes, etc.

Many European cities have demonstrated that "parking management" can be successfully used to minimise the ill effects of auto-centric policies. Tools such as pricing, on-street and off-street parking time limits, reducing parking in inner parts of the city, and abolishing parking minimums are correctly used in combination in cities like Berlin, Munich, London, Zurich, Paris and many other places.

The key is to treat parking space as a real-estate commodity, rather than as a necessity.

* If we limit personal vehicles effectively, there must be better urban management policies on designating proper areas for parking, walking streets, and other options for the public to use transportation. Does this require a complete change in our urban management vision?

The first, and foremost, is that our mobility solutions should be designed to move people, and not cars or motorbikes.

Authorities need to understand that building more roads is not going to solve the problem because increasing road space only attracts more traffic, supports urban sprawl and increases the length of trips.

Vietnamese cities must invest in high quality public transport, with a priority on integrating existing or proposed city bus services with other transit modes, not to forget to support better pedestrian and cycling networks to also encourage non-motorised transport usage.

Cities should actively manage their growth and development patterns in order to facilitate and reinforce the advantages of sustainable transport modes.

Authorities should have a vision for their respective cities. The question that need to be asked is: What should their city look like in 10 years, 20 years or 30 years from now?

Will it be a livable city, having well preserved historic centers with open and public spaces, with a well functioning urban transport system, or a city blanketed with congestion and exhaust fumes?

Many cities have recognised the needs of their citizens and are moving towards profound changes in how they organise urban mobility. All priority goes towards a well-integrated public transport system, supported by a high quality walking and cycling infrastructure.

In those cities, there is a high share of public and non-motorised transport users. Very often, financial support to cities from central and provincial governments for urban transport infrastructure is limited only to investments in sustainable urban transport facilities.-VNA