Michael: Traffic Jams – horrible things. In my day I spent enough time in rush hour sitting on I94, I75 and/or I96 in Michigan. Then again in California trying to get around Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco I met the same fate. But such is not unique to America. Many cities in the world suffer traffic congestion.
In Bogotá, Colombia they have in place a system that is suppose to reduce the amount of traffic on the roads, especially during rush hour Monday through Friday. A visitor would not necessarily see what action has been taken. Streets are still often chock full of cars and moving slowly. It is difficult for the tourist to realize that 50% of the cars are sitting at home.
Graciela: Whether the method would be workable in the U.S.A. is debatable. One of the reasons it works in this capital city is we have mass transportation handling about two million commuters daily.
The law for reducing the traffic is called pico y placa. If you look up “pico” in the Spanish/English dictionary you get the beak of a bird. But in Colombia it also means rush hour. Placa is license plate. The basic idea behind this is that depending on the last digit of your license plate you cannot drive on certain days
Michael: Now it seems that every time the city elects a new mayor the first thing he does is change the way Pico y Placa works. When I first arrived they had a system whereby each car got two days of no driving. Example: If your plate ends with certain number than your days not allowed on the road may be Monday and Thursdays. For other people it could be Tuesdays and Fridays. After 6 months they change the line up of the numbers and your days could change.
Graciela: Initially the system was only during rush hours. Then a new mayor changed it to all day. With the latest head of the city government it changed again back to rush hours, but also changed was the way it was determined which is your day. If your license plate ends in an even number then you cannot be on the roads during rush hour on even numbered days. Cars with license plates ending in an odd number must be off on odd numbered days.
The system is enforced rigidly. The fines are very high. Police are out in force on the streets with citation book in hand.
Michael: The wise reader has now figured out that sometimes you cannot be on the road three of the five working days. Almost doesn’t make owning a car worth it. Additionally, the system has now caused two rush hours, the original and another at 8:30 am when the other cars can be on the road. People just wait and go into the office late. But it also increases the sales of cars as the more wealthy purchase two cars, one with an odd ending plate and the other with an even ending plate.
Graciela: Once a year, usually in early February, we have Día sin Carro (day without car). No regular cars can be on the road that day. Taxis, delivery trucks, emergency vehicles and motorcycles are allowed on the roads.
Michael: Once at a social gathering the subject of pico y placa came up. Everyone in the crowd owned a car. I made the comment about how great it was for the government to try and help against pollution by having both the law during the week and the day without car. That is when I received the “stupid gringo” look from some of those present. This happens most often when I miss something that has to do with the culture.
“What?” I said. “Isn’t it a good thing?”
A couple people rolled their eyes. Then finally one of them said, “Most of the bus lines are owned by politicians.”