Road space rationing

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This article is about regulatory and non-monetary policies to reduce traffic levels from motorized vehicles. For monetary policies to reduce congestion and other externalities, see road pricing.
Traffic congestion persists despite São Paulo's municipal no-drive days based on license numbers, implemented since 1997. São Paulo downtown, Brazil.

Road space rationing (Spanish: restricción vehicular; Portuguese: rodízio veicular; French: circulation alternée) is a travel demand management strategy aimed to reduce the negative externalities generated by urban air pollution or peak urban travel demand in excess of available supply or road capacity, through artificially restricting demand (vehicle travel) by rationing the scarce common good road capacity, especially during the peak periods or during peak pollution events. This objective is achieved by restricting traffic access into an urban cordon area, city center (CBD), or district based upon the last digits of the license number on pre-established days and during certain periods, usually, the peak hours.

The practical implementation of this traffic restraint policy is common in Latin America, and in many cases, the road rationing has as a main goal the reduction of air pollution, such as the cases of México City, and Santiago, Chile. São Paulo, with a fleet of 6 million vehicles in 2007, is the largest metropolis in the world with such a travel restriction, implemented first in 1996 as measured to mitigate air pollution, and thereafter made permanent in 1997 to relieve traffic congestion. More recent implementations in Costa Rica and Honduras have had the objective of reducing oil consumption, due to the high impact this import has on the economy of small countries, and considering the steep increases in oil prices that began in 2003. Bogotá, Quito, and La Paz, Bolivia also have similar restriction schemes in place. After a temporary implementation of road space rationing to reduce air pollution in the city during the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing has implemented several rationing schemes to improve the city's air quality. Driving restrictions were issued in Paris and surrounding suburbs during peak pollution events, the latest, in March 2014 and 2015.

Historical background[edit]

The earliest known implementation of road space rationing took place in Rome, as carriages and carts pulled by horses created serious congestion problems in several Roman cities. In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar declared the center of Rome off-limits between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. to all vehicles except for carriages transporting priests, officials, visitors, and high ranking citizens.[1]

Applications of road space rationing[edit]

Traffic sign used in San José, Costa Rica, to warn drivers of the prevailing access restriction into the CBD according to license plate number by day of the week.

Road space rationing based on license numbers has been implemented in cities such as Athens (1982),[2] Santiago, Chile (1986 and extended 2001), México City (1989), Metro Manila (1995), São Paulo (1997), Bogotá, Colombia (1998), La Paz, Bolivia (2003),[3] San José, Costa Rica, (2005)[4][5] countrywide in Honduras (2008),[6] and Quito, Ecuador (2010).[7] All these cities restrain a percentage of vehicles every weekday during rush hours or for the entire day. When the restriction is based in two digits a theoretical 20% reduction of traffic is expected. Cities with serious air quality problems, such as México City and Santiago use more digits to achieve greater reductions in air pollution, and even the prohibition can be for more than one day a week. In Bogotá, Colombia from 2009 the plate restriction was extended from peak periods to the whole day (from 06:00 to 20:00 hours) in the whole city, due to the extensive construction sites in public spaces.[citation needed]

Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, proposed to impose a complete ban on motor vehicles in the city's inner districts, with exemptions only for residents, businesses, and the disabled, as a three-part plan to implement during a seven-year period.[8] This proposal was made in 2005, in the context of Paris' bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics[9] which ended up being won by London.

During the discussions regarding the proposal to introduce congestion pricing in New York, the commission created in 2007 by the New York State Legislature to evaluate other traffic relief options, considered road space rationing based on license plates as an alternative to congestion pricing.[10] The proposal stalled in April 2008 as the legislature decided not to vote the proposed plan.[11]

Temporary restriction[edit]

Traffic was restricted in Paris in March 2014 and March 2015 due to a peak in the levels of particulate matter.

On March 17, 2014, a partial driving restriction was imposed in Paris and its inner suburbs based on license plate numbers. The measure was issued by the city government in order to mitigate a peak in air pollution, caused by particulate matter (PM 10) attributable to vehicle emissions. Cars with even-numbered license plates and commercial vehicles over 3.5 tons were banned from entering the city from 5:30 a.m. until midnight. Electric and hybrid cars, natural gas-powered vehicles and carpools with three or more passengers were exempted. Only once before this type of restriction had been implemented in the city for one day in 1997. The week before the traffic restriction was imposed, the government also reduced speed limits around Paris by 20 km (12 mi) per hour, provided all public transportation for free, and the short-term subscriptions of the Vélib bikesharing program, and the first hour of the Autolib carsharing service were free. The measure was not extended to the following day due to the improvement of air quality.[12][13] [14][15]

Another peak in air pollution affected Paris and Northern France in mid March 2015. The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, requested the central government to implement a driving restriction to mitigate the problem. The pollution index in Paris at 93 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) on Friday 20, 2015, due to increased amounts of pollutant PM10. The accepted limit for PM10 is set at 50 mcg/m3, and the safe limit or alert threshold is set at 80 mcg/m3.[16][17] As the pollution episode continued on Saturday 21 according to Airparif measurements, the central government imposed a driving restriction on Monday 23 affecting cars with even-numbered license plates and commercial vehicles over 3.5 tons. Taxis, ambulances, carpools with three or more passengers, electric cars and other environmentally friendly vehicles were exempted. As in the 2014 episode, complementary measures were implemented including reduced speed limits in the city, free public transportation, free residential parking, and free short-term use for subscribers of bike and carsharing services. The restriction was implemented in Paris and 22 towns located in the administrative region of Île-de-France.[18][19]

Summer Olympics[edit]

Beijing 2008[edit]

On July 20, 2008, Beijing implemented a temporary road space rationing based on plate numbers in order to significantly improve air quality in the city during the 2008 Summer Olympics.[20][21] Enforcement was carried out through an automated traffic surveillance network. The rationing was in effect for two months, between July 20 to September 20, as the Olympics were followed by the Paralympics from September 6 until 17.[22] The restrictions on car use was implemented on alternate days depending on the plates ending in odd or even numbers. This measure was expected to take 45% of the 3.3 million car fleet off the streets. In addition, 300,000 heavy polluting vehicles were banned from July 1,[23] and the measure also prohibited access to most vehicles coming from outside Beijing. Authorities decided to compensate car owners for the inconvenience, by exempting them from payment of vehicle taxes for three months.[24]

Typical high air pollution day in Beijing

A pilot test was conducted in August 2007 for four days, restricting driving for a third of Beijing's fleet, some 1.3 million vehicles.[25] A 40% daily reduction of vehicle emissions was reported.[26] A previous test carried out in November 2006 during the Sino-African Summit show reductions of 40% in NOx auto emissions.[27]

Post-Olympics permanent rule[edit]

The rationing during the Olympics was so successful in cleaning the air and relieving traffic congestion, that a modified version of the restriction was made permanent afterward in October 2008, now banning 20% of the vehicles on a given weekday instead of half the vehicles as implemented during the Olympics.[28][29] Also a ban on heavy trucks from entering the city during the day was implemented, and the oldest most polluting automobiles, called "yellow-label" cars, after the sticker fixed to their windshields, are banned from entering the city center. In July 2009 a nationwide car scrappage program was implemented offering rebates for trade in old heavy polluting cars and trucks for new ones.[28]

London 2012[edit]

The 2012 Summer Olympics organization, with support from the Mayor of London office,[30] announced in 2007 that they are planning auto exclusion zones around all venues, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Glasgow and Cardiff.[31] London authorities hope this measure will work as an experiment to change the public's travel behavior, allowing thereafter a shift from automobile to mass transit or bicycling. This severe policy has been publicized as the "First Car-free Olympics". During the peak events, the Olympics expect a crowd of 800,000 people. Those attending will have to travel by public transport, mainly through the Underground, or by bicycle or on foot.[32]

Traffic signs marking the beginning of the Restriction Zone, at the entrance of Marginal do Rio Pinheiros (right) and Marginal do Rio Tietê (left), São Paulo, Brasil.

Similar management and rationing policies[edit]

Congestion pricing[edit]

Further information: Congestion pricing

Transport economists consider road space rationing a variation of road pricing, and an alternative to congestion pricing, but road space rationing is considered more equitable by some, as the restrictions force all drivers to reduce auto travel, while congestion pricing restrains less those who can afford paying the congestion charge. Nevertheless, high-income users can often avoid the restrictions by owning a second car.[33] Moreover, congestion pricing (unlike rationing) acts "to allocate a scarce resource to its most valuable use, as evinced by users' willingness to pay for the resource". While some "opponents of congestion pricing fear that tolled roads will be used only by people with high income. But preliminary evidence suggests that the new toll lanes in California are used by people of all income groups. The ability to get somewhere fast and reliably is valued in a variety of circumstances. Not everyone will need or want to incur a toll on a daily basis, but on occasions when getting somewhere quickly is necessary, the option of paying to save time is valuable to people at all income levels."[34]

Mobility rights or congestion credits[edit]

A more recent idea for automobile travel restrictions, proposed by some transport economists[35] to avoid inequality and revenue allocation issues, is to implement a rationing of peak period travel but through revenue-neutral credit-based congestion pricing. This concept is similar to the existing system of emissions trading of carbon credits, proposed by the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse emissions. Metropolitan area or city residents, or the taxpayers, will have the option to use the local government-issued mobility rights or congestion credits for themselves, or to trade or sell them to anyone willing to continue traveling by automobile beyond the personal quota. This trading system will allow direct benefits to be accrued by those users shifting to public transportation or by those reducing their peak-hour travel rather than the government.[36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Black, William R. (2010). Sustainable Transportation: Problems and Solutions. The Guilford Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-60623-485-3. 
  2. ^ "LEDA Measure: License plate based traffic restrictions, Athens, Greece". LEDA database. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  3. ^ "Los choferes públicos acataron la restricción" (in Spanish). La Prensa. 2003-01-07. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  4. ^ Ángela Ávalos (2005-08-03). "Hoy empieza restricción para autos en centro de San José" (in Spanish). La Nación. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  5. ^ Mercedes Agüero (2006-04-12). "Evaluarán restricción vehicular en capital" (in Spanish). La Nación. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  6. ^ "Unos 39.000 vehículos dejan de circular en Honduras para ahorrar petróleo" (in Spanish). La Nación. 2007-04-07. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  7. ^ "Desde marzo se aplica el pico y placa en la capital" (in Spanish). Diario Hoy. 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2010-04-10. 
  8. ^ Henley, Jon (2005-03-15). "Paris drive to cut traffic in centre by 75%". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  9. ^ Bremner, Charles (2005-03-15). "Paris bans cars to make way for central pedestrian zone". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2008-04-26. 
  10. ^ William Neuman (2008-01-25). "Traffic Panel Members Expecto to Endorse Fees on Cars". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 
  11. ^ Nicholas Confessore (2008-04-08). "$8 Traffic Fee for Manhattan Gets Nowhere". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  12. ^ Scott Sayare (2014-03-17). "Fighting Pollution, Paris Imposes Partial Driving Ban". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-18. 
  13. ^ Agence France-Presse (2014-03-17). "Pollution : circulation alternée lundi matin à Paris et dans la petite couronne" [Pollution: traffic restriction on Monday morning in Paris and the inner suburbs]. Le Figaro (in French). Retrieved 2014-03-18. 
  14. ^ Michaël Torregrossa (2014-03-17). "Circulation alternée – Les camions électriques bannis de la capitale" [Traffic restriction - Electric trucks banned from the capital] (in French). Association pour l'Avenir du Véhicule Electrique Méditerranéen (AVEM). Retrieved 2014-03-18. 
  15. ^ Mayor of Paris (2014-03-17). "Fin de la circulation alternée et des mesures antipollution" [End of alternating traffic and pollution control measures] (in French). Mairie de Paris News. Retrieved 2014-03-18. 
  16. ^ "France to restrict vehicles use on Monday unless air pollution eases: minister". Xinhua News Agency (GlobalPost). 2015-03-20. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  17. ^ Simon Blin (2015-01-21). "Anne Hidalgo annonce la circulation alternée lundi à Paris" [Anne Hidalgo announced alternate traffic restriction on Monday in Paris]. Le Figaro (in French). Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  18. ^ Staff (2015-03-22). "Pollution à Paris : qui est concerné par la circulation alternée lundi ?" [Pollution in Paris: Who is affected by alternating traffic on Monday?]. Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  19. ^ "City of Lights dimmed: Paris bans 50% traffic due to heavy smog". RT. 2015-03-22. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  20. ^ "Car restrictions begin in Beijing". BBC News. 2008-07-20. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  21. ^ Andrew Jacobs (2008-04-14). "Traffic Beijing Stops Construction for Olympics". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  22. ^ Lanl an W ang, Ji nta o Xu, Xinye Zheng , and Ping Qin (September 2013). "Will a Driving Restriction Policy Reduce Car Trips? - A Case Study of Beijing, China" (PDF). Environment for Development and Resources for the Future. Retrieved 2013-10-07.  Discussion Papers Series, EfD DP 13-11, pp. 7-8.
  23. ^ Anita Chang (2008-07-21). "Beijing has first workday under car restrictions". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-07-25. [dead link]
  24. ^ Reuters (2008-06-23). "Beijing to launch Olympic 'odd-even' car ban". ABC news. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  25. ^ Edward Cody (2007-08-11). "Beijing To Test Plan to Cut Cars: Measure Intended For '08 Olympics". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  26. ^ "Pequim vai adotar rodízio de veículos durante os Jogos" (in Portuguese). Agencia Xinhua. 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  27. ^ Yuxuan Wang, Michael B. McElroy et al. (2007). "Traffic restrictions associated with the Sino-African summit: Reductions of NOx detected from space". Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 34. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  28. ^ a b Michael Wines (2009-10-16). "Beijing's Air Is Cleaner, but Far From Clean". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  29. ^ "Post-Olympics Beijing car restrictions to take effect next month". China View news. 2008-09-28. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  30. ^ "The 2012 Olympic Games and the environment". Mayor of London official website. Archived from the original on 2008-01-17. Retrieved 2008-04-10. 
  31. ^ "Car-Free Travel: London Olympic Organizers Hope to Reform Britain". Spiegel ONLINE. 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2008-04-10. 
  32. ^ "London 2012 Olympics the first to be "car-free"". AutoBlogGreen. 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2008-04-10. 
  33. ^ Victoria Transport Policy Institute. "Vehicle Restrictions. Limiting Automobile Travel At Certain Times and Places". TDM Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-04-09.  See Equity Impacts section
  34. ^ Holtz-Eakin, Douglas (2003-05-06). "Congestion Pricing for Highways (Testimony before the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress)". Congressional Budget Office. Archived from the original on 2008-02-14. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  35. ^ Verhoef E, Nijkamp P, Rietveld P (1997). "Tradeable permits: their potential in the regulation of road transport externalities". Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 24(4) 527 – 548. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  36. ^ José M. Viegas (2001). "Making urban road pricing acceptable and effective: searching for quality and equity in urban mobility". Transport Policy, Vol 8, Issue 4, October 2001, pp. 289-294. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 
  37. ^ Kara M. Kockelman and Sukumar Kalmanje (2005). "Credit-based congestion pricing: a policy proposal and the public's response". Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Vol. 39, Issues 7-9, August–November 2005, pp. 671-690. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 

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