San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Driving Restriction Plan Back in Action

Along with the current pause in the rainy season will come shelter from the stress-inducing traffic relapse that shocked San José’s streets into a deadlocked mess, when a month ago the Supreme Court ruled that a driving restriction, as it had been implemented a year ago, was unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, the restriction, which prohibits cars with certain license plates from traveling certain streets in and around San José during the weekdays, will go back into effect, according to the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT).

Since the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court decided June 12 that the restriction was unconstitutional in its current form, the ministry has been looking for ways to reapply the law. In the first few days of unrestricted driving, Traffic Police Director Germán Marín said transit time increased an average of 20 percent, with a 40 percent increase in accidents (TT, June 19, 2009), providing an additional rationale for the restriction.

In its published decision, the court did not say the law is unconstitutional, said MOPT Minister Karla González.

“The court was very clear in saying that, from a constitutional point of view, the vehicular restriction is possible,” she said. “The court hasn’t said ‘no.’ What the court determined is that there weren’t any technical studies that allow them to determine why those (specific) corridors (are restricted), and how much was saved in terms of time.”

That study was released by the ministry on Wednesday, and an executive order was sent to the Casa Presidencial for President Oscar Arias to sign – which he did promptly that same day, according to statements from the executive branch.

The study compared the transit time, from when the restriction was in place to when the law was repealed. It cited a 16 percent increase in travel time – but that was at the low end of the spectrum, González said.

“Sixteen percent was the lowest. There were corridors in which the increase was 35 percent,” she said.

The average increase in travel time was 17 minutes and 36 seconds, according to the ministry’s study, and the extra time Ticos spent in traffic would burn $550,000 more in gas each year.

There were “a few times in the day, according to the study by … ministry engineers, in which the congestion was so bad, you couldn’t even gauge the traffic, because there was no kind of movement on the streets,” González said.

The restriction originally began in July of 2008. It restricts vehicles from entering San José and some of its most-trafficked corridors from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., depending on the last digit of their license plate numbers.

Each day, Monday through Friday, has two corresponding numbers. If a car’s license plate ends in one of those two numbers, it isn’t permitted to enter the city on that day of the week.

And while the fine is small– only $10, although the ministry is looking to increase it in September – Ticos seemed to follow the law closely, Marín said.


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