Traffic: Deal With It. Hanoi Style
In his first piece for TTAC, our former celeb contributor Brock Yates noted that “until the underlying economics of private transportation changes . . . economies will be saddled with the private automobile, whether they like it or not.” Here in Hanoi, that truism holds up . . . only you’d need to replace “private automobile” with “ Honda Wave.” Though four-wheeled transportation is clearly picking up pace here (more to come on the quirk and diversity of said transport to come), the Vietnamese could no more imagine Hanoi without a crush of sub-200cc scoots than an American could imagine commuting on a camel. What’s a developing (or overdeveloped, for that matter) economy to do?
The inevitable explanation for Vietnam’s scooter obsession always comes down to economics, and there’s no denying that the modern descendants of “ the greatest motorcycle in the world” are cheap. $800 is the entry point for a new 100cc Wave. But on the other hand, it’s downright impossible to imagine the chaos that would ensue if even a third of Hanoi’s traffic had four wheels. In fact, though traffic in China (where the transition from two wheels to four is well underway in urban areas) seems less daunting in comparison, every auto outing I’ve taken in China has included at least 45 minutes in gridlock. On one memorable occasion, we were stuck in traffic for no fewer than four hours. Here in Hanoi, the turbulence and cacophony is worse, but traffic never grinds to the same frustrating halt. I don’t for a second believe that Americans are about to start transporting their families, four at a time on a two-wheeled, 100cc hair dryer. And yet, if you surf over to CNN, there are recent stories on both the decline in the number of cars on America’s roads and the rise of electric motorcycles.
Me? My dislike of paying for gas, sitting in traffic, the cash-for-clunkers proposal and new cars in general have me thinking about my own transportation situation. And I’m thinking I’d like something old, cheap, bulletproof and somewhat classic for the freeway and an electric bike for around town. Say a Dodge Dart and a Zero X. Or is the scooter exhaust going to my head?
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As some others have noted, riding a moto in Vietnam is actually fairly orderly and mellow, despite the swarms of traffic. I had my own moto for three weeks in Saigon, and never really felt uncomfortable, nor was being a pedestrian ever really scary. There's definitely a sense of order and calm to it. But then again, that's already a dozen or more years ago, so it may be a little more hectic now. Phnom Penh was a different story. That was definitely "throwing chance to the wind" territory. The frequent automatic rifle shooting sprees, arms dealers practice sessions, drunk unpaid soldiers with guns holding up foreigners, and seemingly random grenade parties made it all the worse.
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