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Harnessing Saigon’s waterways for economic growth – A vision inspired by Kochi’s Water Metro success

By Dr Majo George (*)

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Nestled in the vibrant heart of Vietnam, Saigon’s landscape is defined by its extensive network of rivers and canals. These waterways are a testament to the city’s natural beauty and reservoirs of vast economic potential waiting to be tapped. Taking a leaf from Kochi’s Water Metro, which has redefined urban transit in India, Saigon stands poised at the cusp of an urban transport revolution. This revolution has the power to redefine its economic landscape and usher in a new era of sustainable development, setting a global precedent for modern urban living.

Kochi’s Water Metro: A beacon of innovation

Kochi’s Water Metro has stood out as a pioneering initiative, marking a significant milestone in urban water transport systems worldwide. Launched as India’s first integrated water transport system, it employs eco-friendly, electric boats that glide across Kochi’s backwaters, connecting isolated island communities with the bustling mainland. This initiative has dramatically eased road congestion and enhanced urban mobility, creating a more connected and accessible city. Furthermore, by significantly cutting down CO2 emissions and harnessing renewable energy sources, Kochi’s Water Metro exemplifies a successful merger of technological innovation and environmental stewardship (Cities Development Initiative For Asia) (Elets eGov).

The vision for Saigon

Historically, Saigon’s identity has been deeply intertwined with its waterways, vital conduits for trade and transport through the ages. Today, these same channels present a unique opportunity to mitigate the city’s infamous traffic congestion. Inspired by Kochi’s model, integrating a similar water metro system in Saigon could transform urban transit. Envision electric boats, akin to those used in Kochi, plying these waterways, which would help reduce urban air pollution and elevate daily commuting from a chore to a delightful experience.

Adopting such eco-friendly transport options promises to revitalize Saigon’s economic activities by opening up new avenues for commerce and mobility. Implementing electric boats offers a dual benefit: significantly lowering the city’s carbon footprint while providing a swift, serene, and sustainable way to traverse the bustling metropolis. The ripple effects of this transformation could extend beyond mere transportation, catalysing broader urban development and environmental rejuvenation, much like the positive outcomes witnessed in Kochi.

Economic and social enhancements

Spurring tourism and socio-economic srowth

Inspired by the transformative impact of Kochi’s Water Metro, Saigon’s proposed water metro system could catalyse a series of economic and social enhancements. In Kochi, introducing a water-based public transport system revitalised the local tourism sector and improved socio-economic conditions for the residents by connecting previously isolated communities and fostering greater accessibility and mobility (Cities Development Initiative For Asia) (Elets eGov).

Applying similar strategies, Saigon could leverage its extensive waterways to develop attractive tourism offerings such as river cruises, waterfront dining experiences, and cultural festivals. These activities would not only draw international and domestic tourists, enhancing Saigon’s global appeal, but they would also create numerous employment opportunities, thereby uplifting local economies. Furthermore, by promoting cultural festivals and events, Saigon could celebrate and preserve its rich cultural heritage, strengthening community ties and enhancing civic pride.

Integrated multi-modal transport system

Kochi’s integrated transport system, which links the water metro with other forms of public transport, serves as a blueprint for creating an efficient and user-friendly urban mobility landscape in Saigon (Cities Development Initiative For Asia). By implementing a unified transport card system, residents and visitors in Saigon could seamlessly transit between different modes of transport—be it water metros, land metros, buses, or taxis. This integration would simplify the travel experience, reduce transit times, and likely decrease the reliance on private vehicles, leading to less congestion and lower emissions.

The availability of a unified transport system would encourage more residents and tourists to opt for public transport options, which are typically more sustainable than individual car use. This shift could significantly enhance urban connectivity, making the city more accessible and navigable for everyone, including those with mobility challenges.

Environmental and urban renewal

The environmental benefits of transitioning to a water-based transport system in Saigon would be substantial. By focusing on sustainability, such as using electric boats and ensuring that the waterways are clean and well-maintained, the project would contribute to a healthier urban environment (Elets eGov). Cleaning up the waterways would improve the aesthetic appeal of these spaces, support biodiversity, and create healthier ecosystems.

Moreover, urban renewal projects could transform riverfront areas into vibrant commercial and residential spaces. These developments would likely increase property values, attract new businesses, and create a dynamic urban environment where people want to live, work, and play. The focus on sustainability in these developments would ensure that they meet modern standards for energy efficiency and environmental impact, contributing to the city’s broader goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainability.

The economic, social, and environmental enhancements that could arise from developing a water metro system in Saigon present a compelling case for its realization. Based on Kochi’s successful model, Saigon can transform its urban transport landscape and significantly improve the quality of life for its residents and the city’s ecological health.

The vision for utilizing Saigon’s waterways, inspired by the success of Kochi’s Water Metro, aims to transform transportation and redefine urban living. By embracing this model, Saigon could set a new standard for cities worldwide, proving that sustainable development and urbanisation can go hand in hand. This initiative promises a future where economic growth and environmental sustainability are intertwined, creating a legacy of innovation and green development for future generations.

Integrating Saigon’s proposed water metro system into its Smart City project can significantly enhance its objectives of creating a technologically advanced, sustainable, and livable urban environment. Here’s how this integration could be conceptualised and implemented:

Integration with smart city objectives

1. Enhanced mobility and connectivity: The water metro system aligns with the Smart City’s goals of improving urban mobility through intelligent transportation solutions. By providing a seamless, efficient, and eco-friendly mode of transport, the water metro can reduce traffic congestion on roads, lower transportation times, and improve connectivity between different parts of the city, including less accessible areas.

2. Environmental sustainability: Smart Cities emphasise sustainable urban development, and the water metro system contributes directly to this by using electric boats and focusing on cleaning up the waterways. This approach helps reduce the city’s carbon footprint and promotes the use of renewable energy sources, aligning with global sustainability standards.

3. Economic growth and innovation: Part of the Smart City initiative is to foster economic growth through technological innovation. The water metro can catalyse new business opportunities in tourism, hospitality, and services, creating jobs and stimulating economic activities around the waterways. It can also encourage the development of new technologies in boat design, water conservation, and renewable energy.

4. Improved quality of life: Smart Cities aim to enhance the quality of life for their residents by making cities more livable and convenient. The water metro system can contribute to this by offering a pleasant and scenic way to travel, potentially increasing recreational spaces and promoting healthier lifestyles with less pollution.

5. Data integration and management: Implementing and integrating a unified transport card with other public transport modes requires a sophisticated data management system, a core component of Smart City projects. This system could collect valuable data on travel patterns, which can be used to optimise and manage city transportation more effectively.

6. Urban renewal and land use optimization: The water metro project involves renewing urban riverfront areas, turning them into attractive locations for business and leisure. This maximises land use and enhances property values and urban aesthetics, which are critical objectives of Smart City initiatives.

Technological synergies

The project could be integrated with IoT (Internet of Things) technologies to enhance operational efficiency and passenger experience. For example, IoT can be used for real-time boat tracking, automated ticketing systems, and passenger information systems that display schedules and delays directly on commuters’ smartphones.

Policy integration

For such a project to succeed within the Smart City framework, it would require supportive policies, including urban planning reforms, investment in technology, and environmental regulations prioritizing sustainability. Collaboration between governmental bodies, technology providers, and urban planners would be essential to align the water metro development with the broader Smart City strategies.

By linking the water metro system with the Smart City project, Saigon could improve its infrastructure and services and position itself as a forward-thinking city that uses innovative solutions to address urban challenges. This integration promises a holistic improvement in urban management and living standards, setting a benchmark for other cities globally to pursue intelligent and sustainable urban development.

1. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2024/Apr/28/sustainable-scenic-kochi-water-metro-carves-niche-new-paths?utm_source=website&utm_medium=related-stories

2. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2024/Apr/23/kochi-water-metro-to-revive-city-canals-for-navigable-transport-services?utm_source=website&utm_medium=related-stories

3. https://www.newindianexpress.com/web-only/2024/May/02/the-joy-of-zipping-around-kochi-in-indias-only-water-metro-boat-service?utm_source=website&utm_medium=related-stories

4. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/20-lakh-commuters-travelled-in-kochi-water-metro-in-a-year/article68106395.ece

(*) Dr Majo George is Senior Lecturer, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, The Business School, RMIT University Vietnam

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