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Insight

Hoy No Circula Makes a Comeback

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 12:44

In the fading twilight of the 1980s, air pollution in Mexico City became a concern that policy-makers could no longer ignore. To address this issue, the government implemented the Hoy no Circula (No-Drive Days) program, restricting certain cars from traveling on a determined day from Monday to Friday. The day in which a car cannot run depends on the last number on its license plate. The program was initially intended to operate during the winter months as an environmental measure as temperature inversions increased the concentration of air pollutants in the Valley of Mexico, but the program became permanent after the winter of 1990. The Hoy no Circula program has been accompanied by the constant monitoring of emissions from vehicles registered in Mexico City, which have to be examined every six months to determine if they are eligible to run daily, a procedure known as “vehicular verification”. The capital also has agreements with states with similar programs to enforce Hoy no Circula on visiting cars from Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Morelos, Puebla, Queretaro, and Tlaxcala. Although the program was intended to decrease the number of vehicles running in Mexico City, richer drivers simply bought additional cars in order to be able to drive any day of the week.

In order to promote the use of newer, less polluting cars, it was decided in 1997 that cars manufactured after 1993 could be eligible to run daily as long as they had efficient fuel consumption levels, catalytic converters, and up-to-date verification documents. As a result of this, by 2003, only 7.6% of Mexico City’s cars were affected by these restricted transit rules. The program was extended to include Saturdays for cars over 15 years old as of 2008, since pollution levels during weekends were similar to those on any given weekday. Later still, Hoy no Circula was modified to prevent the more polluting vehicles from running twice a week. Under the latest rules, hybrid and electric cars can run every day, vehicles under eight years old can run daily but have to undergo verification according to their acquisition date, cars between nine and 15 years old must rest one day a week and two Saturdays each month, and vehicles older than 15 years cannot run one day a week and every Saturday.

Academics from UNAM have stated that this measure discriminates against private car owners, yet leaves old and polluting microbuses, unregulated taxi cabs, and diesel fueled heavy duty vehicles free to run without proper checks. Carlos Madrazo Limón, a former Congressman from the State of Mexico, believes improvements in low sulfur and low lead fuels have helped reduce greenhouse emissions more than Hoy no Circula. He believes the program now mostly benefits owners of verification centers, as car owners have to pay MX$290 (US$22) twice per year, resulting in a MX$31 million (US$2.4 million) business last year. Other critics claim there are better ways to reduce both pollution and the amount of cars circulating in the city, such as an intelligent scheduling of public works so that these do not heavily affect traffic, the addressing of corruption in construction permits so that high traffic projects are not built in sensitive areas, and the implementation of carbon credit schemes in industrial areas surrounding the city. The government of Mexico City, nonetheless, is very optimistic about the program and it estimates that 560,000 vehicles will be off the streets every day, a 288,000 increase from the number in June 2014. According to the Mexico City government, this will reduce air pollution levels by 11% annually.

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