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In Vietnam, Designing Great Public Transit Before Everyone Buys a Car

Rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City is a mess: a tangle of motorbikes pump pollution into the air, and traffic barely moves. As many as 900 pedestrian, bikers, and drivers are killed in accidents every year—about three times as many as New York City, even though New York has around two million more residents. The traffic's going to get worse, as car sales in Vietnam start to quickly rise. But there's also an opportunity now for better public transit design, as The New York Times recently reported.

If Vietnam can move quickly enough to build new public transportation, there's a small window of opportunity to get people on board before even more start buying cars. Once people get into a car, it's hard to get them out, as one expert says in the Times. Convincing people to use public transportation isn't easy; first, there's the challenge of just building the new systems, and while plans for Vietnam's first subway are underway, progress is slow. Then there's the problem of actually getting people to use it. Public transit is stigmatized in Vietnam, and right now, most people prefer to ride their own motorbikes.

For those in the United States, parts of this might sound familiar: most Americans also need better public transportation, and also need to be convinced to get out of their personal vehicles. But Vietnam also has a unique opportunity, since it's building a subway from scratch now, and it still has relatively few cars. How can the subway be better designed to attract users, and how can a marketing campaign be designed to attract them even more? What can countries like the U.S. learn from places like Ho Chi Minh City as it grows new systems? There's a great quote from a former mayor of Bogota, mentioned in the Times:

A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transport.


This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Take Public Transportation. Follow along and join the conversation at and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.

Original Ho Chi Minh traffic image by pcruciatti /

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