Monday, January 12, 2009

Car Restrictions Unleash Flood of Indifference

Budapest experienced its first car-use restrictions, as Mayor Demszky declared a smog alert Sunday morning.

According to the restrictions, only cars with odd-numbered plates were allowed on the road on odd-numbered days and only even-numbered ones on even-numbered days. According to a report on Caboodle.hu, police weren't issuing fines when the alert went into effect Sunday at 11 a.m., although they were pulling over non-complying motorists and giving warnings.

According to my own highly scientific survey (I checked the plates of about half a dozen cars on Sunday while out for a walk), the ban was being widely flouted. About half the cars I checked bore even plates, half odd.

A report on index.hu (in Hungarian) said that traffic was lighter than usual on Sunday but that Monday morning witnessed a normally hectic rush hour. "Budapestiens didn't take the the traffic restrictions seriously," the report noted.

My wife said that while she was exercising at the gym on Sunday, she overheard a conversation on the topic. One guy expressed confusion. "There are six digits on my plate. Which one tells me whether it's even or odd?" This struck me as a brilliant illustration of my favourite line from Repo Man, "The more you drive, the less intelligent you are."

According to Monday's news, pollution levels in Budapest had already started coming down, with further improvement expected as temperatures rose toward mid-week. In any case, City Hall had already planned to call off restrictions on Tuesday.

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