Officials in Vietnam's traffic-choked capital Hanoi vowed on Tuesday (Jul 4) to banish motorbikes by 2030 to ease environment and congestion woes, a decision that swiftly divided a city where two-wheelers are the main means of transportation.
Hanoi is famed for legions of motorbikes - sometimes stacked with entire families or overloaded with deliveries - that clog roads in a fast-growing city with limited public transportation.
There are five million motorbikes among a population of about seven million, compared to half a million cars on the road.
In a country where the average annual wage is still around US$2,200, the affordability of motorbikes makes them ubiquitous. Yet critics have blamed the emissions-heavy motorbikes for Hanoi's deteriorating air quality and worsening traffic congestion.
The decision to ban motorbikes by 2030 was approved by 95 out of 96 city councillors at a meeting on Tuesday. Officials said the number of vehicles was growing at an "alarming" rate, according to a report on the city government's website.
"Traffic jams and air pollution will become serious in the future if no immediate management measures are in place," the report said. The ban will be implemented in metropolitan districts and public transport options would be increased to wean people off their scooters, the report added.
The number of registered motorbikes in Vietnam is among the highest in Southeast Asia, and officials in Hanoi have long-mulled banning the bikes in an effort to modernise the city along the lines of Seoul or Tokyo.
Some welcomed the move, saying the ban is crucial to cleaning up Hanoi's air, which is notoriously smoggy in the winter months.
"Too many private cars, too many motorbikes ... the quality of air is really bad and the decision made today will improve that," economist and transport expert Luong Hoai Nam told AFP.
The city clocked 282 days of "excessive" levels of PM2.5 - fine particulate matter harmful to human health - last year, according to non-governmental group GreenID, citing World Health Organisation guidelines.
The Hanoi government is rolling out an air monitoring system in an effort to make Hanoi "green and clean and civilised so that people living and working here have a high quality of life", Nguyen Trong Dong, the head of the city's environment department told AFP last month.
On social media, some people decried the motorbike ban announcement - questioning whether the government will really offer viable public transport alternatives as promised.
"This idea is totally insane," said office worker Hoang Thuy Duong, who rides a motorbike to work daily. "Motorbikes are the best means of transportation in Hanoi. I doubt authorities can replace them with public vehicles," she told AFP.
Hanoi does not have a metro system, only public buses which account for 12 per cent of travel demand in the city. Officials said on Tuesday they plan to boost that share to around 50 per cent by 2030.
Construction of a sky train in the city has been repeatedly delayed but is slated to open next year.
Some said limiting individual vehicle use is not effective without efficient public transport in place. "When you just employ banning as one measure they never succeed," said Jung Eun Oh, senior transport specialist at the World Bank in Vietnam.