Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is Three a Crowd In One Car?

A man sneaks between stalled cars in central Bogotá today.
Is there an escape from Bogotá's traffic jams? Gustavo Petro's administration thinks so, but is rolling toward frustratingly slowly.

The Petro administration plans to modify the Pico y Plan policy once again - and it's a potentially
A single car, perhaps carrying only one person,
can occupy almost as much space as a bus,
carrying dozens of passengers..
positive adjustment for a failed policy.

In the first change, Pico y Placa is to be suspended in some neighborhoods, including parts of north Bogotá, where it's not considered necesarry.

In a more fundamental shift, in some parts of central Bogotá Pico y Placa is to be lifted for cars carrying at least three people. That's a positive change - if it works. Pico y Placa has patently failed, as a look at this city's traffic jams will show. Pico y Placa may even worsen traffic in the long run by encouraging the purchase of second cars by the rich so that they can drive every day.

So, if eliminating the restriction for high occupancy cars reduces car trips (rather than, say, drawing passengers out of buses), it'll be a good thing.

Most of these cars carried only one person. 
But I just wonder how such a rule could possibly be enforced. Do they propose to cite all vehicles which cross a specific street with fewer than three occupants inside? If so, I expect to see professional passengers-for-hire standing on that street to ride across to fulfill the quota and then getting out a block later. (That's happened in car pool lanes in the U.S.). Will we start noticing passengers who appear suspiciously inanimate (or inflated) and who stay in the vehicle all day long - and all night - just to satisfy the quota?

And how about all those cars with tinted windows which prevent seeing who's inside?
A street vendor outpaces jammed cars. 

This is, unfortunately, also another example of an isolated, uncoordinated policy. This policy would make sense, and be more realistic, if the city had first thot about encouraging car pooling with, say, a website, car pool lanes and incentives for businesses. Instead, they expect drivers to change their habits overnight. Fat chance. Most of the cars I saw waiting in central Bogotá traffic jams today carried only one person (but those single passenger vehicles often occupy almost as much road space as a small bus carrying a dozen people).

Much more effective potentially is the congestion charge the city is also talking about. A few thousand peso fee to enter congested areas will not only reduce traffic jams, but also generate money for public transit.

In this cartoon in today's El Tiempo, a man tells his wife that his pretty young passengers are only there to help him escape Pico y Placa.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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