In Can Tho, the centre city of the Mekong region in South Vietnam, people’s mode of choice are motorbikes. For facilitating a modal change, public transport lacks attractiveness and coverage. SMMR is supporting the provincial governments to cooperatively develop a viable model for public transport in the metropolitan region.
A Metropolitan Hub of Sustainable Mobility
Can Tho is the commercial and administrative centre of the Mekong Delta region, home to 1.6 million residents, and its metropolitan region reaches into the more rural provinces Vinh Long, Dong Thap, Kien Giang, An Giang and Hau Giang.
Provincial transport is implemented by provincial authorities within a framework given by the central government. Public transport routes and frequencies are developed by the provincial Departments of Transport (DoT) according to specifications of the Ministry of Transport, which has to approve transport service plans and infrastructure investments.
In 2013, public transport only accounted for about 2% of the trip share. As a result, the DoTs would like to regulate the use of personal vehicles and strengthen the public transport share for environmental and social reasons. Thus, Can Tho City has developed various mobility plans over the last few years. However, none of them was fully implemented. In Vietnam, two types of services provide for public transport:
- The Local Public Buses are defined by the high frequency of stops. In Can Tho, the provincial government operates some buses itself, while other provinces commission small-scale operators. The lack of sufficient passengers has made it difficult for this public transport to become profitable due to outdated buses and low frequency, despite having low government-set fares. Users mostly are people with low wages, who are experiencing long-standing time due to interprovincial routes operated by different providers.
- The Fixed-Route Buses are an interurban service with a fixed schedule and a minimum distance between stops of 5 km. It is regulated on the national level and operated by private companies on concessions which allow for free fare setting. However, over 40% of this service operate less than three times per day. Fixed-route operators complement and compete with the public bus network, as they frequently stop informally on the roadside despite their responsibility for point-to-point connections.
While originally designed to serve different market segments, both types of services increasingly serve similar purposes. Yet, fixed-route operators charge higher fares and do not stop as often as the local services. As the public buses face additional competition of the fixed-route operators, they withdraw routes. Thus, the network becomes unattractive and people settle on individual transport modes.
The provinces of Can Tho Metropolitan Region share the goal of a public bus system, providing for the needs of disadvantaged people and encouraging a modal shift. Public transport services should be:
- Reaching high frequencies with an expanded network
- Attractive to passengers
In cooperation with the provinces, SMMR initiated an audit of the existing bus network and governance structures, which revealed a considerable network overlap of fixed routes and public buses, leading to potential operation synergies. It suggested efficiency gains through joint commissioning of interprovincial routes to reduce standing times and to improve performance.
The study suggests working towards a Metropolitan Transport Executive, which will be mandated by the DoTs to conduct planning and delivery of public transport services at the regional level. An agreement following the British model of the Quality Bus Partnership (QBP) is considered most suitable, which will make using public transport more attractive (infrastructure improvements, bus upgrading schemes, increased frequency, better information services and feeder services). SMMR will support the Can Tho Metropolitan Region establishing the QBP along one interprovincial corridor.
For establishing the QBP and a viable business case of the operation of public transport, SMMR will conduct an in-depth baseline study on passenger demand and modal shift potential on a single, interprovincial pilot corridor. This study will improve insight into the challenges and improvements related to public transport usage with a satisfaction survey, in addition to estimate potential emissions savings.
SMMR will work with the authorities and operators on the modalities of the QBP. The provinces will develop a cooperation mechanism towards joint commissioning of the bus routes. The baseline study will be used as input for designing the public transport supply.
Based on the baseline study, the newly founded QBP will be able to determine the new operating model for the pilot corridor and assess investment needs and options. SMMR will support the QBP to develop a ready-to-implement project proposal.
Summary of the background, activities and next steps of SMMR in Can Tho and the Mekong Region.