“Anger and frustration are emotions Edgardo Romero has learned to suppress when, on a bad day, it takes him two hours to drive to work, a trip he swears he can walk in half the time.”
This comes from a recent piece in the Financial Times about bad traffic in Caracas, Venezuela.
Traffic is legendarily bad in Caracas, but the subtle question raised by Mr. Romero’s quote is that, if he knew he could always make the trip on foot in half the time, why he would ever choose to drive? Let’s weigh pros and cons. One the one side, the car: Expensive, slow, tiring, stress-raising, no exercise. On the other, walking. Fast, cheap, and good for you.
Caracas traffic has one culprit: Oil. Venezuela is home to the world’s cheapest gas, a mere five cents a litre, according to The Economist. With gas that cheap, time is the only disincentive to driving (and as the above quote shows, people are inexact managers of time). But it’s not just the price of gas: The oil boom has also put loads of new cars into a city that was ill-prepared to handle them.
The FT article goes on to note that many blame President Hugo Chavez for the traffic woes, and it brings up one of the stranger trades I’ve heard of since that story about the minor league baseball pitcher who was traded for 10 bats: Venezuela has been sending cheap fuel to London to help subsidize bus trips for lower-income people, while London has reciprocated by sending planning experts to Caracas to sort out the mess.
The irony of Venezuela’s cheap and subsidized gas is that, according to one IMF study quoted in the aforementioned Economist piece, the richest 20% of households received 42% of fuel subsidies, while the lowest 20% received less than 10%. Given that the wealthier classes in Venezuela are among the most committed anti-Chavistas, his policy is benefiting most those who oppose him most. By raising gas prices and using the proceeds to build things like bus-rapid transport, he could ease traffic, and the people who he might upset with such a measure don’t much like him to begin with (and besides, what driver doesn’t complain about congestion?)
This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 at 9:53 am and is filed under Congestion, Drivers, Traffic Psychology, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.