The Saigon River bus is struggling to attract regular commuters because it docks far away from residential areas and operates very few trips.
The November marks two years since the Saigon Waterbus launched operations, but on a typical weekday, the 75-seater boat serves only a third of its capacity.
Regular commuters say that even on the its best days, passengers only fill half of all seats.
Trinh Duy Tri, who has been using the boat daily for almost two years, spends VND60,000 ($2.58) on travelling each day, an amount that can fuel a motorbike for over a week.
Tri has to spend half the money on two motorbike taxi trips from his home to the dock and back every day, as there is no parking space near the dock for motorbikes.
“I don’t think many people are willing to spend VND60,000 every day on transportation like me. The boat is deserted because many people live too far away from the docks.”
The river bus, launched in November 2017 as an alternative transportation means to deal with heavy congestion on Saigon roads, has failed to become a popular option for local citizens.
The city had originally planned two routes serving up to 5,000 passengers a day. So far, it has only opened one route that serves 900 passengers a day, according to official figures.
Nguyen Kim Toan, CEO of Thuong Nhat Co. Ltd., which operates the boat, said that only 20 percent of passengers were regular commuters for work, and the rest are tourists.
One reason for this is that the service is not frequent. The river bus, which runs 10 kilometers between the central District 1 to northeastern Thu Duc District, only serves twelve full trips a day, each one taking almost an hour.
Pham Hong Hanh, an office worker in District 1 and a regular user of the river bus, said that regular commuters only have one option to travel to work at 7 a.m., as no other trip is available until 9.50 a.m. “This is inconvenient for office workers.”
Ha Thanh Son, head of waterway management division under the city’s department of transport, admitted that the river bus was not running at its full potential due to a lack of docks in populated areas.
To improve this, the department is considering adding bus stops near the docks and using electric cars to transport passengers to and from the docks, he said.
Parking spaces will be added near the docks for those who want to use their motorbikes, he added.
For now, the bus functions mainly to serve tourists. Toan said that the boats serve about 2,000 passengers a day during the weekends and holidays, four times that of a weekday, as many people are curious to try the new form of transport.