Road Space Rationing in Heavily Congested Cities

Road space rationing is a method of decreasing traffic congestion in a city by limiting the amount of vehicles allowed in a certain area based on license plate numbers. This method is usually exercised during peak periods in heavily congested city centers. The objective is to reduce vehicles in order to reduce traffic jams and air pollution.


History of Road Space Rationing

Implementing road rationing has been around as early as 45 B.C. where Julius Caesar restricted the centre of Rome between 6 am and 4 pm. During this time, only carriages transporting priests, officials, visitors, and high ranking citizens were allowed in this area.


Road Rationing Examples

Rationing is carried out by restricting vehicles of certain license plate numbers in select areas. Each day of the week (usually only weekdays) has numbers assigned and license plates that end in that number are prohibited into the area on that day. For example, if Monday is the day for 1 and 2, license plates ending in those numbers cannot enter the city core during peak hours. It is estimated that this method will decrease congestion by about 20%.

Some examples of cities that have implemented road rationing:

  • Athens, Greece in 1982
  • Santiago, Chile in 198 and extended to 2001
  • Mexico City, Mexico in 1989
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1997
  • Bogota, Colombia in 1998
  • La Paz, Bolivia in 2003
  • San Jose, Costa Rica in 2005
  • Honduras (countrywide) in 2008
  • Quito, Ecuador in 2010


Road Rationing for the Olympics

This was also implemented for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China and 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.

In Beijing, the restrictions were imposed on odd and even license plate numbers which reduced about a third of the typical vehicle traffic and a 40% reduction in emissions.  This rationing project was so successful that it was modified and implemented on a permanent basis. This modification restricted 20% of vehicles and heavy trucks and highly polluting vehicles weren’t permitted to enter the city.

London already has congestion pricing within the city during peak periods. About a week before the London games were to begin in 2012, the lanes of several main city streets were closed to the public, and reserved for exclusive use by athletes, officials and media. These closures were difficult for many residents as London wasn’t built as a grid and many of the streets are long and winding.

This caused significant detours and extended travel times for residents. Visitors attending events in those areas would have to travel by public transportation, bicycle or on foot, in keeping with the “First Car-Free Olympics”.


Does Road Rationing Work?

Road rationing in China for the Olympics was a huge success which led to a permanent implementation. In this instance, it produced direct, positive results. However, in some countries, specifically in Central and South America, some families have multiple cars. This is one of the methods that families use to get around these restrictions.

A report published entitled, The Day Without a Car in Mexico City, found that families purchased multiple cars and none of the intended benefits were met. In fact, due to the additional cars, total congestion and driving increased across the city.


Measuring Congestion, Traffic and Volumes

Road space rationing is one extreme solution for cities that have serious congestion problems. For many cities, simple traffic studies can be completed to better understand traffic trends and patterns which can be applied to long-term infrastructure improvements, signal timing, new road construction, and road diets for multimodal corridors.

Miovision provides numerous traffic studies that can be completed with our Scout Video Collection Unit or by requesting data using our next generation of traffic data management software, Miovision Central.