Urban Youth Motorbike Mobilities and App-based Livelihoods: Competitions, Conflicts, and COVID-19 Concerns on the Streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

Nguyen N. Binh, McGill University


Youth and Public Spaces in Hanoi


In Vietnam’s capital city Hanoi, the recent rise of new ride-hailing platforms has radically altered and disrupted the activities of “traditional” motorbike taxi or xe ôm. As direct competitors to the informal xe ôm, these platforms predominantly employ much younger drivers aged between 16 and 30 years old. Yet, as with their elder xe ôm compatriots, youth ride-hailing drivers often work under precarious employment arrangements with minimal labour protections. In addition, youth ride-hailing drivers also encounter numerous challenging legal and infrastructural conditions in Hanoi’s present-day mobility scene, including an imminent ban on motorbikes in downtown Hanoi by 2030, and the growth of mega infrastructure projects as part of the Government’s plans to modernize the city’s transport network. This paper aims to investigate the livelihood strategies of youth ride-hailing motorbike taxi drivers in Hanoi, set against the backdrop of such competitors, challenges as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, despite being largely under control in Vietnam, continues to amplify the precarity and difficulties facing youth drivers in their everyday work and mobility. By drawing on semi-structured and drive-along interviews with youth ride-hailing drivers, I focus on how they gain access to the city’s streets and navigate new urban infrastructures in their political, physical, and technological dimensions. Furthermore, the youth drivers’ daily frictions and conflicts with both the management of their ride-hailing platform companies and with conventional xe ôm drivers reveal a number of broader concerns regarding the future of this two-wheeled livelihood on the streets of Hanoi.

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