For people in Mexico City who are in the habit of hanging on to their cars until the wheels fall off or their mechanic solemnly declares the erstwhile miracle of engineering to have given up the ghost, Mexico City has just become a lot less friendly.
Beginning in July 2014, city authorities decided to tighten up the “one day without a car” or Hoy No Circula program for vehicles over eight years old.
This is roughly how the new system works:
- Hybrid and electric cars are exempt from restrictions, and get a sticker to establish the fact;
- Cars from one to two years old can get the double-zero sticker, with unlimited driving;
- Cars from three to eight years old get the zero sticker, also without limitations;
- Cars from nine to fifteen years old get sticker No. 1, and are barred from the roads one day a week and two Saturdays in the month; and
- Cars over fifteen years old get the No. 2 sticker and are barred one day a week and every Saturday…
…this is all assuming that the cars in question pass the corresponding emissions tests.
Vehicles with license plates from States not included in the emissions testing program are treated as 15-year plus cars even if they just left the assembly line. Presumably this is to keep people from buying cars in another State and avoiding all the emissions testing hassles. How many people actually would do that is very debatable. Special passes for tourists and occasional visitors to the capital are available online (in Spanish).
If you think this sounds like the capital’s government and its counterparts in adjoining States have come up with a plan that favors the better-off, you’re not alone.
One particular criticism is that although the capital claims to be discouraging the use of private cars, the proliferation of “segundos pisos“ — the elevated roads on major thoroughfares such as Periférico, most of them with tolls — does precisely the opposite. The number of vehicles in the capital has been increasing every year, and average speeds have been dropping.
The government’s arguments are these: five million vehicles circulate daily in the Mexico City metropolitan area, and cause 50% of the air pollution while transporting only 30% of the inhabitants. They expect the stricter Hoy No Circula rules to decrease the number of vehicles by 560,000 each day. Furthermore they assert that without the program, risks of bronchitis would rise by 70% and pneumonia by 80%.
The new rules were based on recommendations by the Mario Molina Center, an environmental think tank, which suggest that the efficiency of the Hoy No Circula program will increase by 52%. Mario Molina is the Mexican scientist who won a Nobel prize in 1995 for work on ozone. Among the center’s findings:
- 43% of the city’s vehicles are less than eight years old and face no restrictions
- Of those who have to leave their cars at home, 64% use public transport, 14% stay home, 8% use taxis and less than 5% acquire another car
- Advantages of the Hoy No Circula program include more frequent renewal of the vehicle fleet
- Disadvantages include that it leads to more cars being bought overall.
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