Monday, December 14, 2015

Car Restrictions in Mexico City and Bogota

Several cities around the world, including Mexico City, Bogota, Sao Paulo and Santiago, have implemented licence-plate restrictions in various forms. Mexico City’s story resembles Delhi, where car restriction was started to counter the extremely high pollution levels in winter. The idea originated when air pollution levels were seen to drop significantly on car-free days, similar to Delhi’s Raahgiri initiative, where small sections of roads are car-free on Sundays. Vehicle restrictions in Mexico City began in 1987 as a voluntary initiative led by an environmental group. By 1989, the metropolitan area of Mexico City was faced with such high levels of atmospheric ozone that the government implemented a programme that banned the circulation of 20 per cent of all private vehicles on each weekday between 5 am and 10 pm. The ban was based on the last digit of the vehicle’s licence plate. Early results were good, with reduced fuel consumption, faster road speeds, etc. However, these gains were shortlived, as by 1995, about 22 per cent people had bought second cars. These second cars became notorious as “chocolate cars” for the colour of their exhaust, as they were cheaper, older, poorly maintained vehicles, bought with the purpose of circumventing the car restriction by those who could afford it.

Interview with Dr. Lucas Davis, Associate Professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, on Reuters

Vehicle restrictions were first introduced in Bogota in 1998. Here, 40 per cent of private vehicles were prevented from operating in the city each day between 7 and 9 am and between 5.30 and 7.30 pm. Vehicles having any of four digits as the last digit of their number plate are restricted each day. Over the years, the programme has helped significantly reduce peak-hour congestion in Bogota. While congestion has reportedly worsened in the hours before and after the restriction period, peak-hour travel times have reduced by 40-50 per cent and car users have managed to change their schedules, organise car pools or use taxis. The reason Bogota succeeded where Mexico City struggled was that the initiative in Bogota was accompanied with implementation of the bus rapid transit (BRT) and cycling infrastructure. This ensured that public transport was boosted to deal with the added influx of people and did not choke with the additional pressure.

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