Recalling old substandard motorbikes to ensure traffic safety and reduce air pollution is a necessity, but this cannot be done easily because motorbikes are the livelihood of the poor.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) has released Document No 7442, requesting cities/provinces to strengthen control over air pollution and eliminate dust and emissions hotspots.
The ministry has asked Hanoi and HCM City to speed up the implementation of comprehensive solutions to ease air pollution, such as new public transport, vehicles using clean energy, and removal of old vehicles from circulation.
The recall of old motorbikes has been discussed for many years.
According to the Vietnam Register (VR), there are 3.4 million cars and 50 million motorbikes. Hanoi has 7 million motorbikes and HCM City 9 million in regular circulation. Of these, 40 percent are old motorbikes that have been used for more than 15 years.
In Hanoi, it is easy to see trashy motorbikes, with no horn, lamp, mirror or license plate rolling on the streets. The owners of the motorbikes are often vegetable and fruit merchants, builders and scrap collectors who use the bike to carry goods.
The old motorbikes are mostly models manufactured many years ago, including Honda Cub, Wave, SYM Angel, Suzuki Viva, Best and Chinese models Loncin and Lifan. Many of them have been modified to be able to carry cumbersome goods. They are loud and kick dust and threaten the safety of other people.
Studies show that motorbikes emit 80-90 percent of CO, HC and NOx of total emissions. Old motorbikes that are only occasionally maintained will produce a volume of toxic emissions much higher than vehicles regularly maintained.
Currently, emissions examinations are being implemented in accordance with the Ministry of Transport’s Circular No 70 dated November 2015. But the regulation is only applied to cars, and there is no standard for motorbikes.
Experts and officials all agree that it is necessary to remove old vehicles from circulation, but they have not found a radical solution to do so.
Bui Danh Lien, former chair of the Hanoi Transport Association, while lauding the idea of eliminating old polluting vehicles, stressed that it is necessary to thoroughly consider solutions so as to avoid negative impact on society.
“Most old vehicles belong to low income earners and the poor. The motorbikes are not only their means of transport, but also a tool to earn their living. So, removing old motorbikes will affect their ‘rice pots’,” he said.
Tu Sy Sua, senior lecturer at the University of Transport and Communications, said it is necessary to set up a roadmap to step by step remove old vehicles, to avoid shocks to poor and vulnerable people.
“Recalling, seizing or buying back old motorbikes has been a long story. In addition to building up a legal framework for this, it is also necessary to communicate the necessity of old motorbike removal to get support from the people,” Sua said.
“I think a 2-3 year roadmap is reasonable,” he said.
Radical solutions needed
Nguyen Van Phuong from VR thinks that for motorbikes, it would be better to set a technical barrier to control emissions, not fix the number of years for shelf life.
Le Thanh Hai, head of the Environment and Resources Institute, said it is necessary to think about how to deal with old recalled motorbikes when Vietnam still has not developed a recycling industry. Mechanical engineering companies can do this, but only with the support of the state.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has asked the Ministry of Transport to work with localities to take old motor vehicles that do not meet circulation standards off the roads.
Owners of motorbikes more than 18 years old and failing to meet emission standards in Hanoi may receive a subsidy to purchase a new bike under a programme proposed by the city’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment.