The Hamilton Spectator

In Vietnam, Confiscate­d Bikes Pile Up


SEOUL — Motorbikes, the preferred mode of transport in Vietnam, are piling up in impound lots in Ho Chi Minh City as it becomes more cost-effective for some owners to abandon them than to pay the fines to get them back.

The city, Vietnam’s financial center, has gotten more aggressive in targeting drunken driving in recent years by raising fines and confiscati­ng vehicles. Those fines are now often higher than the value of the vehicles.

Now the police are wondering what to do with the abandoned motorbikes.

Some residents have been so frustrated that they have aired their complaints publicly, even though criticizin­g the ruling Communist Party can be risky.

Nguyen Khang, 30, who works at a bank in the city, said an inefficien­t and needlessly punitive system was holding motorbikes “hostage.”

“The relevant authoritie­s also understand this,” he added. “But fundamenta­lly, they have not yet found a more holistic approach.”

Hue-Tam Jamme, an expert on urban developmen­t in Vietnam, said the abandoned motorbikes reflect a transition: As more Vietnamese join the middle class and buy their first cars, the bikes are becoming less essential.

“The motorbike is not the status symbol it used to be,” said Professor Jamme, who teaches at Arizona State University.

As part of Vietnam’s campaign against the harmful effects of alcohol, the maximum fine for drunken driving approximat­ely doubled in 2020 to the equivalent of more than $300, which is more than the average Vietnamese worker’s monthly salary. The law prohibits people from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system.

Tens of thousands of people have lost their driver’s licenses. In Ho Chi Minh City, nearly 155,000 vehicles were seized in 2022, most of them motorbikes, and most as a result of alcohol-related traffic violations, a local police official told the state-run news media in January.

Nguyen Huu Liem, 56, a constructi­on worker in Ho Chi

Fines for drunken driving that exceed the value of vehicles.

Minh City, said his license and motorbike were confiscate­d in January after he had “a little bit to drink to relax with a friend.”

“The fine is excessive for the average worker,” he said.

His motorbike is worth five million Vietnamese dong, the equivalent of about $200. The fine he received was about $80 more. He paid it, he said, because the police told him that it was the only way to get his license back.

Others are leaving their bikes in Ho Chi Minh City’s police impound lots. As of January, the city’s traffic police department was short on motorbike storage by 9,300 square meters, the police told the local news media. Thousands of bikes have been sold at auction, but the backlog has continued to grow and fires have occasional­ly broken out at the lots.

Jack Dang, 35, a constructi­on worker in Ho Chi Minh City, said he had witnessed groups of people scavenging for motorbike parts in the lots.

“Once they’re brought here,” he said, “it’s over.”

 ?? LINH PHAM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Efforts to curb drunken driving have been a big factor in the pileup of impounded motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City.
LINH PHAM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES Efforts to curb drunken driving have been a big factor in the pileup of impounded motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City.

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