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Brandeis University

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Vietnam: Culture, Social Change, and Development


As a country that has only started rapidly developing in the last thirty years or so, Vietnam’s cities are still in throes of instating a comprehensive public transport infrastructure. During the French Colonial era in the early 20th century, Vietnam got a taste of its first mechanized form of transportation, the bicycle. These pedal-powered vehicles largely dominated the streets of Hanoi and Saigon until Doi Moi in 1986. Here, the motorbike came along and its rapid rise in popularity quickly pushed bicycles off the street. In the last twenty years or so, the motorbike population in Vietnam went from tens of thousands to tens of millions. Policy makers and urban planners couldn’t keep up with this exponential growth rate, and the cities have generally been left with large traffic problems and people who don’t care very much about following the laws. It is clear that some intervention, likely in the form of mass transit infrastructure, is desperately needed. After analyzing the history of Vietnam’s urban transportation, I hoped to find out what role the motorbike plays in the daily lives of city dwellers and what values they impart it. Using Alexandre Freire’s “Motorbikes Against HCM?” and Glenn Yago’s Sociology of Transportation as respective lenses, I wanted to explore the sociocultural impact of the motorbike and how it can affect and change people’s perceptions of space and their interactions with the environment. The main questions I sought to address were 1) How has the motorbike etched out a unique cityscape? 2) What sociocultural values has the motorbike imparted? 3) How feasible/popular are government plans to reduce motorbike usage and promote public transportation? Through a series of interviews with various individuals, I gained some deeper insight into their perspectives on the past and current transportation situation, and their feelings on a possible shift toward urban mass transit systems


Asian Studies | Urban Studies and Planning


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