The government is proposing five new bike routes to help Ticos “change the culture” of transportation and curb fuel consumption.
Public Works and Transport (MOPT) Minister Karla González unveiled the plan this week along with a plan for more train lines in and around San José.
“What we wanted to do was tell the country that we are using all our resources to support the effort Costa Ricans are making with vehicle restrictions,” González said.
The latest plan comes as part two of the government’s efforts to reduce national fuel consumption in the face of rising prices at the pump.
President Oscar Arias’ administration proposed a bill this week that would eliminate the tax on diesel and shift it to regular and super grades. The legislation would also increase the tax on luxury diesel vehicles by 100 percent.
In addition, driving restrictions came into effect last week that limit travel along and within the circunvalación – the route that runs around downtown San José – according to the day of the week, hour and the last number on license plates.
Officials said 944 drivers were each fined ¢5,000 ($9.70) June 26, the first day of the restrictions.
The proposed bike routes will fit naturally with what González called Costa Rica’s “bicycle culture.”
“We hope (the bike route plan) will have an important impact … in changing the Costa Rican mentality so the bicycle can really be an alternative” for vehicle transportation, the minister said.
After conducting an initial inventory, the government estimated that 167 kilometers of national roads could benefit from bike routes in five areas: a 43-km stretch from Caribbean slope towns of Guácimo to Guápiles, a length of Route 32 within the Caribbean province of Limón, Esparza center on the Pacific coast, the road from Liberia to Cañas in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, and a portion of the new highway running between 27 de Abril and Villareal in Guanacaste.
González estimated the project would cost $100,000 per kilometer, or about $16.7 million total.
The Inter-American Development Bank at the Mesoamerican Summit held in Mexico at the end of June promised to donate $1 million to the project, the minister said.
The Costa Rican government is hoping to receive a matching donation from the International Automobile Association through the World Bank.
From design to construction, the bike routes could be ready within six months, González said.
Meanwhile, the government is conducting feasibility studies for a new metropolitan electric train that could be up and running with the next three years, González said. She also projected restoration of an existing San José-to-Heredia line – an estimated $3 million project – could be completed by the end of the year.
MOPT also plans to launch more “smart traffic lights” in 80 additional intersections by January at a price of ¢1.2 billion (about $2.4 million). Such lights are designed to sense traffic flow, thereby reducing idling time, congestion and fuel consumption.
González said the 325 existing smart lights save roughly ¢4.2 million ($8,600) worth of fuel each day.
On the construction front, MOPT is focusing on widening roads and finishing bridges across the San José metro area, especially in and around Escazú west of the capital, to help ease traffic congestion.
Seven new peripheral bus routes pitched as an additional means of public transportation are still bogged down in appellate courts after MOPT was accused of acting “irrationally” in awarding the contract.
Ticos last month burned 1,403,323 barrels of oil, 5 percent less than the 1,477,526 barrels consumed in June 2007, according to the National Oil Refinery (RECOPE), which attributes the drop to the soaring price of oil.
Most of the decrease was in diesel fuel, whose consumption declined by 12.5 percent, from 592,071 barrels in June 2007 to 518,289 barrels last month.
Demand for regular gasoline fell by 4.6 percent, while consumption of super rose 9.8 percent. RECOPE said the increased demand for super is the result of Ticos’ purchasing more new automobiles.
Combined consumption of the two types of gasoline rose slightly, by about 0.2 percent, RECOPE reported.
Liquefied petroleum gas consumption dropped 5.9 percent, and the demand for asphalt dropped 37 percent last month as compared to the June 2007.
The lower energy demand in Costa Rica is part of a worldwide trend. Even the United States, the largest guzzler of oil, has reduced its demand.
Driving Restrictions To Last All Day
Driving restrictions will switch to 24-hour periods, possibly within the coming week, according to one government official.
Public Works and Transport Vice Minister Viviana Martin said Wednesday that the new all-day restrictions will go into effect as soon as the decree is published in La Gaceta, the government newspaper.
Freight vehicles will be exempted from the new decree, Martin said.
Previously, drivers were prohibited from entering downtown San José and the Circunvalación, a route tracing the perimeter of the capital, according to day of the week, hour and last number of their license plate.
The initial schedule was from 6-8:30 a.m. and from 4:30-7 p.m.
By the ministry’s count, transit police have issued an average of 700-750 tickets per day since the decree was first enacted on June 26.
Presidency Ministry Rodrigo Arias said President Oscar Arias’ administration will also send guidelines to all public offices urging employees to carpool.
Public vehicles, except for police cars and ambulances, will be included in the driving restrictions.