This posting is not about public transportation in Quito. I’ll sum that up for you in one sentence. Buses only run along three major routes, all of which are north to south, they don’t always stop at demarcated stops, and they’re heavily monitored by thieves. But, public transport woes are certainly not news to any of you who have traveled around, lived in, or read about a city in a developing country (and some developed countries!). Here’s what people are really talking about here in Quito: pico y placa.

Pico y Placa is a policy adopted in May in Quito to control excessive traffic and air and noise pollution during peak hours. Pico refers to peak traffic hours and placa to license plate number. Vehicle owners are not allowed to have their vehicles on the road between 7 – 9:30AM, and 4 – 7:30 PM for one day per week, based on the last number of the license plate. The goal is to get 80,000 private cars off Quito’s congested streets during rush hour.

At Fundación ESPOIR (the microfinance institution or “MFI” where I’m currently based), there are a variety of strategies for coping with the policy, some employees adjust their work hours on “their day,” others opt for public transport once a week. Still others rely on neighbors. The co-worker with whom I’m staying drives her neighbor to work on Wednesday’s (the neighbor’s pico y placa day), and the neighbor returns the favor on Fridays. The fine for violating the policy is hefty: $80 for a first violation and three violations results in license suspension.

Similar policies have been adopted in other Latin American cities with mixed results. One study found that in Mexico City many drivers purchased an additional car to circumvent the regulations, many of which were older and carried greater noise and air pollution. While it’s still early days, the policy seems to be relatively well received in Quito. A number of people I’ve asked here in Quito said they’ve noticed a significant reduction in traffic during peak hours and felt it was worth the inconvenience once a week. There is talk of extending the policy beyond peak hours to an entire day, but no date has yet been set.

Stay tuned for more insider info from Ecuador in the coming months.

Tara Capsuto is a Kiva Fellow in the 12th class. She is roaming throughout Ecuador and is serving at Fundación ESPOIR and Fundación D-MIRO. Make a loan to a hardworking entrepreneur in Ecuador here.

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