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Car-Ban-Apalooza Comes to Mexico City as Ozone Levels Reach 14-Year High

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Thanks to unusual weather patterns, it seems that air pollution has come to a head in the past year, with people finally getting fed up with factories and vehicles belching smoke and particulate matter into the air that they are breathing in.

In Paris, the government has been implementing car-free days, which could lead to permanent no-car zones, to help alleviate pollution. In Beijing, China, this has been building for some time, as the city has added more and more restrictions to car ownership in the face of growing public unrest over the horrendous air quality (it probably didn’t help that Beijing created a gorgeous blue sky overhead for one week for a WWII victory parade by implementing a half-time car ban and shutting down factories, which disappeared as soon as the parade was over). This was followed by similar bans in large cities across Italy, where odd weather had left clouds of deadly smog clogging the streets. In Delhi, India, the most polluted capital city in the world, courts have finally ordered the government to do something about the rampant pollution, resulting in a criticized and praised partial car ban trial.

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Beijing China bicycle rider

It’s probably safe to say that that bicyclist isn’t just coming from holding up a stagecoach
Photo: Lei Han

This brings us to Mexico City. The capital city has already had some serious smog problems, partly because it is a sprawling metropolis and partly because it is ringed by mountains that trap airborne particles. As a result, Mexico City has implemented an air quality control program since the ’90s called “Hoy No Circula,” where cars are banned from the streets one day per week based on their license plate numbers.

Mexico City Smog

Because that isn’t just a sepia photo filter
Photo: arndw

Unfortunately, this year that hasn’t been enough. As winter comes to a close, Mexico City is experiencing a sudden surge in smog levels, with levels of ozone in particular climbing to 1.5 times the limits of what is considered “healthy”—the highest it has been in 14 years.

So, Mexico City has started doubling down on its emissions control. At first, this meant that cars would be prevented from driving into the city center one day each work week and one Saturday each month. However, when this did not have enough of an effect, the city ramped up restrictions, banning about 40% of all cars from the roads at any one time while requiring industrial plants to lower emissions by 40%.

Many federal trucks were not allowed to enter the city, causing backups on the highways coming into the city, while in the city, economists warn that these restrictions will definitely put the hurt on industries in the area, especially production industries, which may soon cause a supply shortage. Additionally, some scientists and a majority of the citizens don’t really think cracking down on cars is actually going to do anything for the pollution.

As a result of the car ban, Uber prices in the city have rocketed skyward, while at the same time the city’s bus and subway systems are facing a flood of people. Recognizing this problem, the city is allowing commuters to hitch rides with any city vehicle heading in the same direction, and promise that these restrictions will only last as long as the poor air quality does (restrictions like these back in March only lasted three days).

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News Sources: Gizmodo, Bloomberg, Vice News