Caracas traffic: When 840 meters can make a difference in quality of life

July 24, 2008

Tomorrow, the company where I work will be moving. It is not a huge
move, barely 840 meters away from where we currently are in a straight line, but such a small distance is going to make a
huge difference in my life.

You see, traffic in Caracas has become simply unbearable. Measured in
Google Earth, I live exactly 2.13 Kilometers away from my office. But
in the morning it may take me as little as 25 minutes and as long as 45
to get there.

If you think that is awful (it is!). Consider my drive home in the
afternoon, which may take me from 40 minutes to an hour. In fact, at
least six times this year, I have stepped out of my office and seeing
traffic within the parking lot reach the 4th. floor, I simply decided,
suit and all, to walk home.

But starting tomorrow, the office will be 840 meters as the crow flies
closer to my home. But in terms of time the difference is incredible,
There will be no traffic lights in the way and if I pick my streets
correctly, I can get there in about four or five minutes in the morning
and come back in about ten in the afternoon. In fact, even with a suit
on, it will take me about thirteen to fourteen minutes to walk the
distance. A truly life-changing experience in my mind. I will have over
an hour more of leisure, blogging, orchiding, reading, what have you. I
will gain 6% more time everyday to do something I like.

And yes, the current horrible state of traffic is the Governments
fault. From free gas (gas is about 8 cents a gallon at the parallel
swap exchange rate), t the heavy subsidy on imported cars; this
Government has done little, if anything, to improve the traffic
situation in Caracas. In fact, he publicly stated that he had not built
anything in Caracas during his tenure in office because it was not a
priority. Of course, Bolivian highways seem to be more important to him
and he appears to think that traffic in Caracas is mainly oligarchs, as
if the subway system managed to take care of the transportation needs
of the less well to do.

But think about it, after four years of cars being imported at the same
rate of exchange and over 20% inflation per year, anyone with a job has
more purchasing power for an automobile than he or she did four years
ago. More importantly at these inflation levels it makes little sense
to have money in the banks when interest rates are negative which
drives car buying even further.

And the Chavez administration can be blamed directly not only because
it ahs failed to find solutions by building new roads, bridges or
highways, but also by showing the most absurd ideological neglect to
possible solutions.

The first one was the decision by the Chavez Government to do away in
2000 with the natural gas project that PDVSA had had in effect for
about eight years. No reason was given for cancelling the project in
2000 but it was likely due to the fact that it was conceived and driven
by the oligarchic, capitalistic PDVSA and that as unacceptable, but
then in 2007 it was revived out of necessity. And in typical Chavista
fashion, a decree was issued forcing car manufacturers to sell dual
gasoline/natural gas by June of this year, an impossible goal to meet,
which has forced car companies to stop selling cars now until the
Government does something about it.

The second unbelievable approach by the Chavez Government was to simply
boycott the plans by opposition Mayors to introduce hours every day I
which cars can not drive according to the number of their license
plate. The Chavez Government opposed these plans and the Courts quickly
approved request for injunctions against them by Chavista groups,
killing the plans, which in my humble opinion were quite helpful.

Problems like this are not restricted to Caracas. Anyone that has to
travel for business either flying or driving is doing it much less
simply because it is so time consuming. Going from Caracas to Maracay
or Valencia has become a full day occupation, with half the time, if
not more spent in the car wasting gas and smelling the fumes.

Meanwhile, there is no aggressive plan to improve traffic or introduce
measures that will help Venezuelans spend less time stuck in traffic or
helping improve the environment, save oil or foreign currency used for
importing cars.

But in my case, I will benefit tremendously from the solution my
company found. Just think, I may even use part of my new free time
blogging more, just to bore you to death!!!

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