Friday, July 6, 2012

Three Reasons Why Pico y Placa is Doomed

Petro's recent adjustment of Bogotá's pico y placa rule makes the scheme a bit more predictable - and reduces traffic jams by increasing from two to three the number of days each car is banned from the streets.

That's a recognition of the reality that the number of private cars in Bogotá is going up, up and up. And it will increase even faster, inevitably overwhelming the pico y placa rule. In fact, by stimulating the buying of second cars to drive on those off days, pico y placa perversely drives more car-buying, accelerating the city's gridlock. (The rule works by restricting driving according to the last digit of a car's license plate.)  

A Chevy dealer's ad invites owners of cars
with similar-ending license plates to visit. 
And anybody who thinks this trend will end is fantasizing for at least three reasons:

1 - Economic growth: Colombia's economy is growing steadily, and desire for status, convenience and more status is driving car purchases with this new wealth. Close to 100,000 additional cars enter Bogotá every year, pushing the city closer to permanent gridlock.

2 - Free Trade Agreements - Each additional free trade agreement - with the U.S., Korea, Europe and even China - opens the gates to more cheap cars, accelerating car purchases.

3 - China - Even without a likely FTA with China, Chinese-made cars are way cheaper than those from Europe, the USA, Japan or even Korea. The New York Times reports that a Chinese-made model sells for one third of the price of a similarly-equipped Japanese car. (More unfortunately, those Chinese cars are cheap because they seem to lack all pollution controls.)

How will Bogotá survive this onslaught of cars? Will it progressively adjust the pico y placa to prohibit cars from driving four days of each week, then five, then six? That, or building huge urban freeways which the city cannot afford, will be the only alternative to traffic strangulation - unless Bogotá thinks outside the box.

Petro says the new Pico y Placa scheme will last only one year. And after that? The only sustainable solution is managing demand for street space with a congestion charge, like those in London, Singapore and Stockholm. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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