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Ho Chi Minh City Revives Canal Network to Address Traffic Chaos

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City witnessed another day of traffic chaos on Tuesday amid efforts by authorities to revive water transport through its intricate network of canals – which so far has drawn tourists and curious locals – to ease road traffic.

Launched around the end of November, the first line of its water bus transport connects the central part of the city with four stations in residential areas on the outskirts, allowing people to complete a journey of around an hour in 30 minutes.

“At the moment, the people who come are mostly tourists and people who want to enjoy a boat ride. They are full only during weekends,” a ticket seller at one of these boat stations told EFE.

On weekdays, despite promotion in the local media, foreign tourists, several retired people, students with free time and families with children make up most of the passengers on these water buses.

“I have come to take a round on the boat and have a good time because today I don’t have work. It is a good idea to get a different view of the city,” said Di Chau, one of the passengers.

Low frequency – hardly six per day – of these boats, also limit their usefulness for the thousands of daily commuters, who still have to rely on road transport adding to the chaos and environmental pollution.

The initiative, which according to local authorities will be expanded to include more connections with greater frequency from January onward, is part of an objective to promote local transport such as the construction of its first metro line in 2020 and improving the number of buses on the road.

The rapid growth of population – 13 million according to the latest official statistics – and the number of vehicles on the road – with eight million motorbikes and 650,000 cars registered – have choked major roads of the city during rush hours and raised air pollution to unhealthy levels.

However, the administration has been trying lately to bring together its 112 rivers and canals that add up to hundreds of kilometers into a thriving water transport network.

When the first French-Spanish military expedition had landed in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1859, the city was a little Asian Venice where commerce had thrived around the canals that ran throughout the city.

Poor hygiene that led to spread of diseases, however, had forced the French colonizers to cover up many of these canals and move toward road transport.

Crowded slum settlements along the banks and release of waste in the water had converted most of these canals into garbage dumps.

The revitalization of the water transport network is being conducted alongside regeneration projects that were launched in recent years with the help of foreign funding to convert these canals into green spaces to improve the image of the city and attract more tourists.

However, the project is not simple and will likely take many years as more than 20,000 slum dwellers will still need to be rehabilitated and the cleanup projects will cost millions of dollars.


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