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In Venezuela, traffic has become a hot-button political issue.
Critics say Pico y Placa is a scheme that favors the rich because they can afford more than one car and thus bypass the system.
But Capriles points out that the real aim is to free up roads. “Pico y Placa is a measure that benefits the majority because it is a timetable for restricting the use of cars,” he said. “For what? To improve the mobility of public transport.
“It’s a social measure. It's not a measure that favors the rich. Why won't the government permit it? Because I am proposing it. If the government had proposed it, Pico y Placa would be operating.”
What is clear from other Pico y Placa schemes across Latin America is that it needs to be combined with an efficient integrated public transport system, said Tomas de la Barra, founder of the Carcacas-based urban design consultancy firm Modelistica, which has done studies on transport solutions for the mayor of Caracas.
According to de la Barra, what's surprising about the traffic problem is that it's not simply the result of too many cars. Polls his firm has carried out show that only 38 percent of carraquenos (Caracas residents) own a car — a rate far below other urban centers in Latin America.
But Caracas faces geographic challenges. Set in a narrow valley, wedged between mountains, the city's road capacity is limited. For de la Barra, the solution is improving public transportation (not widening roads) — something that may require cooperation between the two sides.
“[Traffic] is a theme from which people suffer a lot daily,” he explained. “It's something that's high in people's agenda and so it has become a political question ... Unfortunately, a unified solution has not transpired for the whole city.”
Meanwhile, the unpredictability of traffic means that Jesus Vargas often arrives at work up to an hour early. He uses the time to drink a coffee, he said. Others sleep at their desks or in their cars. He has considered moving into the center of the city, but property prices here are at a premium and he cannot afford it.
His hope is that some kind of solution to Caracas’ crippling congestion will transpire.
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