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05 January 2008

View from Bogota - Of holiday lists, traffic rules and vehicle registration numbers

OK, here is a riddle. Can you find the relationship between the following? Your vehicle registration number, the official holiday list and the traffic rules in your city.

Racking your brains (or whatever that is there) aren’t you? What could be the relationship between these totally different entities, you wonder. You could sense a nebulous relationship between registration number and traffic rules, but relationship between these and your holiday list? Impossible, these are like chalk and cheese. How can you have a relationship between two unrelated entities?

Well, here in Bogota, everything is interelated and are a part of a unified whole. Much like Indian philosophy of ‘Vasudeva Kudumbakam’

Let me tell you the story of how each of them are related here in Bogota…..

I wish I could start by telling you that it all began in the year 2000. Unfortunately I can't because it all did not begin in 2000. It could have begun in 1995 or it could have begun in 2001. Safe to say that it all began around the year 2000.

Till that time, Colombia's economy almost in tatters. With inflation ranging from 20-30%, and the currency highly devalued, the country was going the same direction as the other lat am countries.

Then the slow turnaround began and the economy started to look up. The inflation came down to single digits and businesses started investing again. Soon people were buying cars and other vehicles and within no time the city was rampant with traffic jams and slow moving vehicles.

The city adopted a multi pronged strategy (Don't I love those cliches?) to counter the menace. (I could have lifted this sentence straight out of ToI Bangalore edition and no one would have known that I am talking here of Bogota). One of them was to bring in a rule that one can take his vehicle out only 2-3 days a week on working days.

(Notice how subtly I am bringing in the 'Vehicle Registration Numbers' into play)

Here is how it works. The vehicles whose numbers ending with 0,1,2,3,4 and 5 cannot come out between 6.00 AM to 9.00 AM and between 4.00 PM to 6.00 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The vehicles whose registration number ending with any other digit cannot come out on the other days during the peak period mentioned above. This system will go on for a year after which the counter will move forward one day as it were.

The only people who were happy with the new system were the Car manufacturers. This is because, now people bought two cars instead of one. You had the 'Monday cars' with numbers 1 to 5 and 'Tuesday Cars' with numbers ending in other digits. Needless to say, the new system hardly helped in bringing down the traffic congestion in the city.

Now let us smoothly transition to the the motif of 'Holiday Lists'.

Colombia is a high holiday country. (Public Holidays 2008). The country has an average of 2 holidays a month, in addition to the weekends. The holidays can be divided into two categories. There are those 'Fixed Holidays' which cannot be changed. For example, Christmas and other holidays related to Christian Saints which has to be celebrated on the fixed day.

And then there are 'Movable Holidays' or the 'Monday Holidays' ...

These are mostly related to Wars, Centeneries, Memorials etc for which there is neither a fixed date or a day. (Unlike for example, India's Independence day falls every year on 15th of August) If any of these holidays falls on a week day, it is moved to the Monday so that people can enjoy an extended weekend. This means that many of the mondays are holidays in this country.

Since Monday is predominantly holiday and you do not have any restrictions on taking out your vehicle on a holiday, there is a lot of demand for 'Monday' numbers. This means that there is heavy traffic snarls on those mondays when the country is working.

Tail Piece: Recently Govt. is focussing on creating a better public transportation system and creating 'Cycle Routes' known in spanish as 'Ciclo-ruta' . These are dedicated bike path network which has rekindled interest in cycling in Bogota in a big way.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ram,
I found a similar logic in Brazil when I was there 2 months back.
- Sunil Soni, TCS Uyu

Anonymous said...

haha..its all fun to be in Latam..its a totally different world!!

- Sunil Soni

Ram said...

Sunil, If you are in Bogota, two things you have to do as soon as possible.
1. Buy a bike. It is fun riding bikes in Bogota
2. Get into the public transport. It is so easy to understand the layout of Bogota.