Bogotá is having her first Día sin Carro of the year today, and it’s provoking strong feelings on all sides as usual.
Twice a year, Bogotá bans personal car use for the vast majority of the city for the day. Today is the first of the 2023’s shutdowns, known as Día sin Carro y Moto. The dates aren’t fixed; the first usually falls around this time of year and the second in autumn, around September.
It’s a lot more extreme than the normal Sunday and holiday ciclovía schemes, as all regular cars are banned from all roads. Obvious exceptions exist for taxis, buses, emergency vehicles, and certain key workers such as doctors.
The policy is controversial to say the least. It has, rather predictably, led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth from a whole host of sectors. Of course, people who usually use their cars to commute are furious, but it’s worth remembering that they are by no means the majority of the city’s commuters.
We spoke to a man called Daniel at a Tembici bikehire station, who said, “I use [Tembici] every day to go up to 72; it’s very convenient. In fact I’m working from home today, but I cycled in with my wife to her work and back anyway because it’s such a nice day.”
I’ve lived through many car-free days in the last decade in Bogotá, and I’ve noticed a significant change post-pandemic. During the last Día sin Carro in September 2022, many businesses that could accommodate remote working simply asked employees to work from home and universities just cancelled many classes.
A lot of people didn’t even attempt to travel, despite the fact that most people don’t even use cars. This reflects the growing acceptance of remote and hybrid working in Colombia, and points to a possible future with fewer commuters. After all, Bogotá is a much nicer city if you don’t have to move around too much in it. Cities should be designed for people, not cars.
So what’s the point of all of this? Well, the reason is above – Bogotá is so much nicer without traffic jams, fumes, noise, delays and chaos. Bogotá might not be as bad as some Asian cities in terms of air pollution, but it’s certainly not a shining ecological star. Día sin carro reduces this significantly, according to the city’s environmental department. Commute times are laughably inefficient, which leads to a lot of wasted time, lowering productivity and quality of life.
So, what can you do?
If you’re out and about during Día sin Carro, you have several transport options.
Most people will be hopping on some type of bus, as indeed most commuters do every day. Whether it’s TransMilenio rapid bus transit, SITP buses in their rainbow of assorted colours or regular colectivos, they’re the transport lifeblood of la nevera.
There might be a bit more crowding than usual, but off-peak it’s unlikely to be too bad. Also, there are more buses in circulation today, and they don’t have anywhere near as much traffic to navigate. You might think that in the case of the TransMi that’s not an issue, but remember that cars often get stuck crossing TransMi lanes.
Remember, you can always get on your bike in Bogotá. We’ve criticised the self-aggrandising capital mundial de bici posturing from the alcaldía before, but it’s still an excellent city (and country) to ride in. The bike lanes will be busier than normal, but there are plenty of them and they’re far less stressful than normal traffic. Do be careful though, as a truck driver has already killed a cyclist today.
No bike? No problem! Bogotá recently inaugurated the aforementioned bikeshare scheme with a Brazilian company called Tembici. They’re getting plenty of use, and the alcaldía has made a big push to get some of the damaged bikes repaired faster and back into the system for today. Having tried the bikes out, I can personally say they do the job just fine.
You may have trouble moving about with rideshare apps, but the regular yellow taxis are most definitely buzzing about the city today. Hopefully, they’ll be on their best behaviour today and not taking advantage of the situation. Despite copping a lot of flak, rolo taxis aren’t nearly as bad as they’re often made out to be and have a big incentive to play nicely right now.
It’s a blazing Bogotá day with fewer fumes in the air. Perfect conditions for a stroll in the sunshine. Most of the city is very flat and walkable, and you’re never far from a decent café to keep yourself from sunburn and rehydrate. Our top tip for a day like today is a limonada de coco!