Lawmakers in Hanoi, Vietnam, approved a plan to ban motorcycles from parts of the country’s capital city by 2030 in an effort to ease traffic congestion and pollution.

Motorcycling in Vietnam

It seems counter-intuitive to those of us in North America, where the prevailing wisdom is that more motorcycles on the road improves traffic flow. Things are a little different in Hanoi, a city of 7.5 million people and 5 million motorcycles and scooters. In contrast, there are just 500,000 cars in the city, with two-wheelers outnumber automobiles by a 10:1 ratio. City planners estimate the number of motorcycles and scooters to increase to 6 million by 2020 while the number of cars will surpass 800,000.

According to the Hanoi People’s Committee, the city’s road infrastructure is not improving fast enough to meet the rising demands of transportation. About 60% of traffic (both two-wheels and four-) in Hanoi moves at just 12.4 mph while occupying 1.34 times the maximum capacity of city streets (and 3.72 times capacity in the heart of Hanoi). The sheer volume of traffic also contributes to air pollution, with the People’s Committee claiming transportation accounts for 70% of the city’s pollution.

The proposed ban on motorcycles was approved by 95 of 96 city councillors. Under the approved ban, the city will bar motorcycles and scooters from metropolitan areas while increasing public transportation. According to the Daily Star, buses account for 12% of current traffic; the government hopes to increase that to 50% by 2030. Two urban train lines are also under construction.

The government’s plan has already drawn opposition from the people who rely on motorcycles as an affordable mode of transportation. The plan could also have a serious effect on the global motorcycle industry; Vietnam is the world’s fourth largest motorcycle market, with Honda, Yamaha and Piaggio each carving out a significant stake.