Bogotá faces mobility gridlock as dump trucks stage blockade across city

Bogotá finds itself – once again – in the grip of mobility gridlock as hundreds of heavy cargo trucks are blocking all the major roads that connect the Colombian capital with the rest of the country. The decision to stage the blockades along the corridors of Calle 80, Calle 13, Vía La Calera, Carrera 7 with 171, Calle 63 Sur and Sibería, comes after Mayor Claudia López enacted Decree 840 of 2019 that imposes a license plate restriction on trucks 20 years or older.

The Pico y Placa measure for heavy-duty trucks aims to reduce high pollution levels in a city with deteriorating air quality. During the first week of February, Mayor López issued a “yellow alert” for Bogotá given a thick cover of smog, stagnant winds and unseasonably hot temperatures.

Often referred to as “chimeneas” (chimneys) for their belching black fumes, an estimated 15,000 heavy-duty trucks circulate every day on Bogotá streets and vehicles considered to be the worst pollutants. Drivers who don’t abide by the new Pico y Placa restrictions face a fine of $438,900 pesos. “The restriction has an important environmental component as 18% of the fleet is 20 years or older” claims Mobilitary Secretariat Nicolás Estupiñán.

But the decree raised the ire of truckers who argue that the mobility restriction goes against their constitutional right to work, and even though transporters are open to phasing-out dump trucks with newer, cleaner, alternatives, as the great majority of these vehicles are family-owned if there are no economic incentives, “chimeneas” will continue to haul refuse and construction debris.

As protests enter their third day impeding the flow of food to the city’s central market Corabastos and commuters facing long delays coming in and out of the city, a negotiated end to this dispute remains a distant prospect, especially as the district insists that “public health is not negotiable.” The restrictions, however, do not apply to vehicles that transport valuables, live animals, flowers, medicinal gases, perishable goods and machinery for public works. Freight cargo trucks are also exempt from Pico y Placa if they comply with environmental standards. According to Estupiñán, since the restrictions began on January 31, particle emissions have been reduced 47 percent.