Uneasy Riders

Best way to get around town

Bikers in Venezuela – locally known as “motorizados” – are a fascinating subculture. Going from motopirueteros to mototaxis to messengers, they are a definitive part of the Venezuelan urban ecosystem, albeit one not held in very high esteem.  To many, motorizados are a big, emotionally charged problem.

My experiences with motorizados have been bittersweet. My side mirrors have been smashed twice by these two wheeled fellas. I have had my windows tapped two times. On each, I got a sudden rush of adrenaline. On one occasion, it was a friend saying hello. On the other, it was a guy letting me now that the rear door wasn’t properly closed.

The most memorable experience happened on a weekday, as I was crossing Libertador Ave, from Plaza Venezuela to La Florida. There, a very familiar scene: a blind man stands on the side of the street, at a traffic light, expecting charity from those drivers that have to stop there. Nothing exceptional about this particular blind man. A tanned guy wearing dark glasses on his face, white hair on his head, not much else on his bones. In one hand a cane, and in the other a cup.  The location he chose couldn’t be worse. It is not busy, the light is way too short, and on rainy days he has to avoid a huge puddle.

One day, as I was standing a couple of meters away from this gentleman waiting for the traffic light to go red to cross, a motorizado pulled over next to the blind man, took his breakfast out of his messenger bag (a tin foil covered arepa) and gave it to the blind man. Such a random act of kindness from the least respected echelon of the urbanite class system … moved me.

When you ask people what’s the first thing that comes to their mind when they think of bikers, their top choice would probably be anarchy. Motorizados are not bound by transit laws or common sense of any sort. They will skip lights, drive on sidewalks, drive on the wrong side of the street, drive on streets that go in the opposite direction. They will shut down main avenues to accompany one of their peers to his final resting place, drive on the wrong side of the highway while doing a wheelie with wife and four children in tow, all the while carrying the groceries, steering with no hands, and blindfolded.

The second thing that comes to mind is … thugs. A thug’s favorite mode of transportation is motorcycle. They will snake around cars stuck in traffic, tap your window with a gun, and demand your cell phone, wedding ring, or anything else that may be visible.

But why are motorcycles so popular? Simple. Traffic costs time. Economists make meager attempts to value that time, but truth is the majority of people don’t care about those economic losses. In fact, people are willing to pay to avoid traffic. And compared to anything else, motorcycles are cheap, cheaper that bicycles for sure. But using them is scary. Driving a motorcycle is dangerous. In 2012, there were 1220 biker-related deaths. Those most vulnerable are between 20 and 30 years of age, a group that I belong to (can’t wait to be 31, it will be so much safer then!). 2013 saw a 52% increase in bike-related deaths.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Motorcycles can be a key ingredient (but not a silver bullet) for solving the current and future mobility issues.

Let’s do some mind-bending exercises. Traffic is gnarly in main Venezuela cities. Motorcycle usage is a way to reduce traffic congestion. Not only that, they have fewer emissions, and they occupy less street space both in transit and while parking. Motorcycles, if made part of a thought-out city transit program, can have incredibly positive outcomes. Studies have shown that if a fraction those commuting in a car would do so in a motorcycle, commuting time would be dramatically reduced, for all of those commuting both in cars and motorcycles.

But how do we make sure that we get lots of motorcycles on the streets with all the positive outcomes and none of the negative ones?

We can lump the negative issues into two fronts: infrastructure, and regulation.

The first means having our infrastructure to be thought out for motorcycle transit in combination with cars. There are many ways of dealing with this, from dedicated lanes to guaranteeing road visibility at all times – making the road visible, but also making the riders visible to those in passenger cars or trucks. These two can have major consequences on both safety and traffic flows.

The regulation part of the equation is more challenging and it starts with education. One of the fundamental requirements for obtaining a motorcycle license should be understanding the risks. Motorizado education must start there,  and followed with transit laws, proper driving and even manners, but understanding the risks is crucial. In many places to be granted a license one must do a training course. Significant resources should be invested in responsible driving campaigns for both cars and riders.

Regulation then has to be well thought out. Right now there are about 30 things that motorizados are explicitly banned from doing. Some regulations are very reasonable: wearing a helmet, speed limits, etc. But others are unfounded. As an example, one of the things motorizados cannot do is lane splitting – which is when a motorcycle drives between cars when traffic is congested.

There are two things wrong with that regulation. The first is that at the moment of issuing the regulation the consensus was that pretty much all motorizados practiced lane splitting, making it nearly impossible to enforce. The second problem is that lane splitting is actually beneficial for traffic, and studies have shown that it improves overall safety. It is an example of regulation based on prejudice and not facts.

Recently, the government has banned motorcycle circulation after 7 pm. As Moreno points out, most of the motorizados are not criminals, but the few that are have a huge impact. As we see both chavistas and the opposition creating regulations around prejudice and not facts, one has to wonder about the wisdom behind it.

All these bring me to the last item on a cohesive and effective motorcycle transit policy: enforcement. Education and sensible regulations must be kept in place. They are not pulled out of thin air, and there is a consensus around them. Examples of sensible rules include that motor vehicles can only drive on roads (not sidewalks), and that certain speed limits have to be in place.

Next time you find yourself stuck in traffic and see a motorizado go by, be thankful. He is taking a huge risk to get you (and him) to work more quickly.

57 thoughts on “Uneasy Riders

  1. I was hit while changing lanes by a motorizado who was zipping between lanes and tried to pass me even though I had my signal light on and had begun my lane change. He damaged my right rear fender as well as his front wheel and hurt his knee. Of course, he said it was my fault and wanted me to pay him for his injury and to repair his motorcycle. I refused to, saying it was his fault, not mine. Turned out he didn’t have insurance and was happy to leave to avoid a fine if I called the police. Another time, I was turning left on a narrow road in Baruta in front of an oncoming pickup truck with a bunch of Baruta municipal workers in the back. The truck driver braked and a motorizado hit him from behind. The motorizado said it was my fault because I forced the truck to brake with insufficient warning for him to stop. I told him that he had to deal with the truck driver because neither of them had hit me. Another time I was changing lanes and a motorizado lost control of his motorcycle while braking, hit the concrete wall on the right side of the autopista, and fell in front of the cars following me. I saw it happen in the rear view mirror, slowed down momentarily and then took off when I saw that the driver was getting up, thinking that I would be in trouble if I stopped and other motorizados arrived. I was lucky each of these 3 times that that did not happen. I have heard of drivers being beaten by groups of motorizados who arrive on the scene of an accident involving one of their cohorts, even when the driver is not at fault. The big problem is that many motorizados think they have the right of way and accidents happen when drivers are trying to pay attention to the traffic in front and on either side of them but don’t spot the motorizado until it is too late. Unfortunately, the motorizado doesn’t have the protection the car driver has and many of them are seriously injured or die as a result of the accidents they cause.


    • No joke. Once, one drunken motorizado hit my dad’s car (it was his fault), and within two minutes a horde of them had surrounded us. Thank god the police was there (an efficient one at least), and after minutes we got out of there fast.


  2. “Next time you find yourself stuck in traffic and see a motorizado go by, be thankful. He is taking a huge risk to get you (and him) to work more quickly.”

    Yeah, as long as he doesn’t rob me. Jk, where I live, most of them are not thugs, they are just specialists in breaking the law. Not that normal car drivers aren’t.


  3. My first encounter with a motorizado in Caracas was the one patiently waiting for me in the space where my car got towed from. Ecosystem indeed.


  4. Told by medic that the statistics on motorbike accidents are awful , they are very vunerable , dont take care of themselves , specially on weekends when they drink or (sometimes) do drugs , Public hospitals are poorly equiped to cope properly with complex bone fractures, which can lead to life long trauma or even loss of limbs . When I drive I feel protective about them , try to give them space to move and am careful to warn them of my movements to avoid any collision , they usually respond with courtesy . Have had my rearview mirror busted twice by speeding bikers , they see a lane between two slow moving car channels and treat it as if they were freeways or auto bahns, also dont give cars a chance to change lanes if it interrupts their high speeds . Most fearsome are the biker band of assaultants that have become so common in recent times . they ambush people trapped in stopped traffic. There are streets in ccs which at times of congestions become regular traps for robber bikers . one of them is sited near the Millenium about 6 pm. .For people who cant afford a car ( or even find one to buy in todays Venezuela) the motor bike is a good solution for moving inside a city . They re becoming more and more numerous each year. Rules should seek not only to protect car owners but the bikers from unnecessary accidents . Also to make it more difficult for criminals on bikes to rob cars whilst stuck in traffick. .


  5. I, for one, would never drive a motorcycle in Caracas, punctuality be damned. Because drivers in Caracas are freaking insane.
    First off, my father was a motorcycle fan, and every bike he ever owned was stolen from him. But aside from that, it’s that unshakable feeling that I would get while on a bike that everyone driving within a 3-meter radius is actively trying to kill me. I’ve seen motorizados splattered on the road and I’ve seen some car crashes so absurd that I marvel at how they ever even happened. So, driving a bike in Venezuela, the land where traffic laws go to die? Nope.


  6. It’s 6:30 AM and it’s just starting to rain, just “una garubita” as you would say. The cars in the Francisco Fajardo highway slow down as it looks like there is traffic up ahead. The Motorizados in their exclusive lane – that virtual-one between the fast lane and middle lane accelerate to avoid getting wet. One of them attempts to join the wheel-to-wheel 60 mph snake and forces the others behind to touch the brakes. One after another proceed to slip, fall and skid between the car lanes, the mixture of the rain and dirty greased-up asphalt makes them slide for tens of meters only coming to a stop when they hit a car. Then the carnage – a couple hit the head to the ground, their helmets nicely tied to their motorcycles. A lady riding with another is lying unconscious in the middle of the road, while her driver takes his helmet off. Another lady slides in the Tarmac for 15 meters in a miniskirt and burns her skin off. A whole family goes down next to my car, miraculously it looks like the 9 month infant is Ok, but the mother’s arms are shredded to pieces; she attempts to stop screaming and avoid scaring her baby, but the pain is just too much; she passes-out as her partner takes the baby from her arms. In total around 10 or 15 are hurt, 5 in a bad way. Cars don’t even move expecting a mob to form, a few get out and call for ambulances …

    … just like any other day on my way to the office.

    If going fast between car-lanes is a good practice we might have to ask Google to add a Dead Biker report on Waze. I am positive we hold the Guinness Record in this category, unfortunately no-one is counting.


    • We are actually ninth in the world in motorcycle related deaths. Which is a huge concern. Something that it must be understood is that speed limits are a reasonable demand. There is empirical evidence that says that excess speed leads to accidents. But not so with lane splitting. Lane splitting should only occur when traffic is going at less than 45 MPH and one shouldn’t exceed that speed. Many of the accidents seen and that have been mentioned are closer related to speeding and not to other aspects of urban riding.


      • 45 MPH is 72 KPH. What’s the speed limit in highways within Caracas? How fast should motorcycles ride at? If cars are going at 65 KPH, should bikes be allowed to lane split at 80 KPH?


          • In the US, speed limits in residential areas generally are 20-25 MPH (~30-40 KPH) (some states higher, some lower). 25 MPH (40 KPH) still seems high (to me) as the cut-off point below which bikes would be allowed to lane-split. I don’t know what the limits are for residential areas in Venezuela (never seen a speed limit sign here), but bikes do fly by doing at least 60 KPH.
            To me, more reasonable – and safer – would be that bikes could lane split at ~5 KPH faster than car traffic speed, provided it doesn’t exceed the speed limit for that particular road.


  7. Sorry, Rodrigo, but motorizados are a solution when you don’t have other solutions…and there are other solutions.
    As we know, the absolutely first one is to have efficient, decent public transportation. That means really good buses. Thanks to the whole economic cancer Venezuela is in, that’s not possible now but it could in the future. One of the few things I would not mind having a nationalization of is the bus system.

    But then:

    1) bus drivers would need to be people who have taken courses on how to drive and can drive
    2) there are dedicated lanes for buses in certain places
    3) buses are in optimal condition
    4) most people can use a transportation pass whereby you pay for a month or three (non-transferable)
    and in that way save a lot
    (it is amazing how expensive travelling is in Venezuela on a regular basis than in Europe even if here fares are more expensive if only one or a few tickets are bought
    5) petrol prices really need to go dramatically up
    6) Venezuelans really need to have REAL driving tests, not the huge farce we have had since time immemorial. That could mean having theoretic tests carried out with a computer (like I did here in Europe), you do have to pay enough for it to hurt but it should be affordable), randomized questions and all.
    That has to mean real practical tests as well (perhaps we need to introduce itinerating comptrollers to check testers or something like that)
    7) a centralized system where the information of every driver is stored, linked to the police and if they get a fine, they should also lose points and if they lose too many points, they will have to give away their driving license for X months.

    About 3 years ago I took a look at data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas
    about what jobs people had in Carabobo now. I was really amazed at the amount who were doing something related to transportation. It actually were people who were either (pirate) taxi drivers, lorry drivers or motociclistas transporting any crap.
    And that is because in Venezuela there is hardly any really productive job. We don’t make things, we don’t have workers making things, just transporting them from the ports or between locations in Venezuela.
    Of course, changing that will take a lot of time but once that starts to happen, we will see less motociclistas. They will be in a factory or workshop and they will be most likely taking the city bus number 421 or 321 or 8121


    • Your points are very good and I would like to expand them in the future. Particularly the idea that “public” transportation in Venezuela to a very large degree is “private”.

      In your analysis you omit three things:
      1. Transit alone is not a silver bullet either.
      2. Regardless of the quality of the transit you will still see bikers and they are doing a service in terms of emissions (compared to a car with a single passenger) and with respect to infrastructure usage.
      3. Bikers (and bicycles, but they are less common in Ccs) are a ‘part’ of a solution and there is plenty of empirical evidence to back that up.


      • Rodrigo,
        Thanks for your answer. I don’t want to ban motorbikes, God forbid! But several of the points I give do not go for bikes only but would contribute to decreasing the use of private fuel-driven vehicles in general.

        I am curious about this: do you think Caracas could have something like two major bike lanes criss-crossing the city? (take away security issues) Or is urbanism and weather so wrecked already that it would not be feasible even if 1) people could buy bikes and 2) not be shot at like in Sarajevo during War time or Caracas like in now?

        I haven’t been to Caracas in a while. I know it is even a problem in Brussels, even if it shouldn’t and it’s because there isn’t the will…which is amazing as there are lots of good examples to follow nearby: I see Amsterdam, I see Berlin and so many other cities where lots of professionals actually use bikes to go to their work. By the way: most postmen in Flemish cities (just around and next to Brussels) use bikes as well.
        Lanes are there.


        • The issue is that people in Venezuela will not use public transportation. Even if crime was low and transportation efficient.
          I wouldn’t mind line splitting if the roads where wide enough or if cars drivers were to be deemed at fault when traffic is at 20km or bellow. 45 km is still cruising speed in my opinion.jio


          • How can you say that if we have never had efficient public transportation?
            I still remember we didn’t even have the concept of “bus stops” in the eighties in Venezuela.
            In Valencia and other cities you had to “applaud” twice for the bus to stop. We had all kinds of jokes about that all the time. Once I almost applauded in Germany. Once we got the bus stop the system was already a mess.

            I know it would be hard but there is an example in Europe: cars are still a big status symbol but much less so with time, specially in big urban areas.
            There are now increasingly more people who do not even have a car even in big German cities.
            The status of a car has gone down.

            I think a tram system is viable in Caracas but it needs to be really possible for most people to get a seat most of the time.

            The issue is very complex. I believe it also has to do with the fact lots of people, as I mentioned earlier, really work on something that is “transport related”. It is the next best thing from “begging” or – sometimes – from having a little street vendor position (often these are “better off”). If they had other jobs, transportation of goods would become much more efficient.


            • Repeat after me: “We are not Germans”…

              I lived in Valencia and used the system at a time were it was somehow efficient and you did not have to be scared that someone might get on the bus to rob/kill you.

              At the time, there were also stops. And buses did not loaded and unloaded on the middle of the road as a matter of principles, even though they would stop whenever someone flagged them to get on.

              Once I got a car, I never used the system again. Why? Well, I wanted to arrive fresh, not all sweaty.
              Also, to my part of town, buses did not run after 8:00 pm (not enough people they said).
              When at school and after starting to work, the car gave me a chance to go back home for lunch and a siesta at noon!
              Not possible on a bus, and quite likely not possible today, even with a car.

              A car is still a status symbol in Venezuela and other parts of the world.
              So not only status, security and efficiency are an issue. In my view, infrastructure is a big one. There are no enough roads to avoid traffic.

              I had to travel to Toronto.
              Using my car was a hassle: fighting with myself to not fall sleep, traffic at all times, accidents, parking.
              After only my second trip I decided to take the bus (private enterprise).
              Slept in the way in and back. If there was an accident, the driver knew ahead of time and found an alternative route (one of many). Only once got stuck in traffic for more that one hour (snowfall).
              Even using the bus, and walking 1.8 Km, I still arrived on time and earlier than using the car.

              That is not possible when going Valencia to Maracay, for example, leaves with you with two alternatives to the highway, each one worst than the other.

              While it is true for example that a lot of people in cities like Toronto do not have cars, it all boils down to economics.
              Car insurance and parking are extremely expensive.


              • I said: we would need to go for a system of buses either belonging to the State – like the underground – or where the companies working in those routes have to fulfill certain requirements. That would mean buses need to run at least so many between, say, 8pm and midnight.

                As I said: Valencia never ever had an efficient system. It would be something like the Metrobus in 1983 before Maduro became active in the union but even better.
                It is possible even if we do not have German genes.


          • “people in Venezuela will not use public transportation”?????!

            Bus service in Venezuela is abysmal, yet in peak hours you can see people hanging from the doors because there isn’t any space left inside the vehicle. This is true for Caracas, Valencia and several other cities.

            La Bandera is a terrible inter-urban terminal (in Caracas), yet every friday afternoon, masses of people fill the platform to get on a bus to Maracay, Valencia, La Victoria, Cagua, etc. A typical line to get on a bus on a Friday afternoon can last a couple of hours.

            Express Buses, like Aeroexpresos and Rodovías are more expensive than regular buses, since they get to charge for the use of their private terminal (VEF 30 – 50 charge per ticket). If you try to purchase a ticket to travel on Friday night to Valencia, on Wednesday (sometimes even Monday), they’ll tell you they’re sold out.

            The Caracas Metro is no longer the efficient, comfortable, safe system it was in the 80’s – 90’s. There’s lots of incidents of cutpurses, but there’s also fighting, armed robbery, mass robbery (whole wagons), and even shootings. Yet at peak hour some platforms (Chacao, for example) get absolutely filled with people, and in some stations wagons come so full you have to wait even 3 trains before you can aboard (like Sabana Grande).

            Getting tickets for the ferry to Margarita is no picnic either. People have to buy them in advance, but not too much advance as it’s limited to a period in the future. Some people have to make lines from dawn just to get a ticket.

            And using airplanes for local flights, is a sure way to lose hope on the Venezuelan culture of service. Yet those tickets also get sold out in long weekends, holidays, vacations, etc.

            So… People DO use public transportation in Venezuela. Perhaps you meant people with cars/trucks/motorcicles don’t use public transportation… but that’s hardly the majority of the population.


            • Bravo that someone says this.

              SUV-driving PSUV leaders know this very well as well. And that is why they get thousands upon thousands of PDVSA vans and other state vehicles transport voters to centres during election time.

              If we explained this to people and showed them how it is done outside Venezuela, we could gain.
              Now, of course, it is extremely hard to do so.

              The average Venezuela has never been abroad, chances are she doesn’t have a car and lives in a city of 100 thousand to 900 thousand inhabitants. Her name is María González or José (Gregorio) Rodríguez (not Pedro Pérez, as many think :-)


          • I think if the crime is low, transportation efficient and the gas price is very high Venezuelans would use public transportation.
            About motobikes, I agree that can be part of the solution but the number of motobikes need to be caped, and as Rodrigo said education and enforcement, no only for the bikers but for the “fiscales de transito” so they can stop been “matraqueros”! THis is another part of the ecosystem that need be regulated.


  8. I understand that people have a particular fear of the extra mobility that bikes give to los amigos de lo ajeno, but besides that it has always seemed to me that the vilification of bikers has a distinctive classist undertone in Venezuela. To be fair, car drivers are not precisely angels when it comes to flaunting the rules, they just have less versatility to do so than bikes.

    Seems unlikely that while many (if not most) Venezuelans get their drivers licences without ever attending a driving class or even taking a test (thanks, gestores!), a drive to “educate bikers about the rules” would be very successful. It might even reek of “know your place!” style over-the-shoulder looking.

    I don’t have any stats on accidents (will Google them when I have a chance), so if you allow me to speak anecdotically…I was very impressed by how bike traffic works in some Southeast Asian cities such as Ho Chi Minh City. From a distance it looks and feels like utter chaos, with bikes carrying any number of people and all kinds of things whizzing by in all directions, but upon closer inspection you can see that they follow sort-of-rules like keeping a relatively low (30 Km/h or so) speed so they can maneuver around each other and pedestrians. For them is the main method of transportation (ask Yamaha and Honda where they get a lion’s share of the revenue for their motorbike divisions…) and everyone seems to be fine with that.


    • I think you are right on the dot. The issue of road-rage-lawlessness is general. In fact, it doesn’t only apply to roads. I wanted to emphasis two things. The first, is the prejudice against bikers (with those classist undertones included) and two, what I have seen, not in London or in Sydney, but a true solution to mobility in the developing world. Particularly in south east Asia where they have implemented great road infrastructure to keep everything in an ordered fashion and very clear rules that came from consensus to law.


      • Rodrigo, I’m curious about which elements in use in Asia you are referring to. It is certainly true that motorcycles and scooters are used widely in the continent but there are large differences in terms of the incentives and supporting infrastructure (both physical and regulatory). It’s hard to see what would be needed to make this work in Venezuela. I think any effective strategy which seeks to leverage motorcycles effectively requires fundamental changes in the way laws (not just in traffic) are enforced and how the rule of law is perceived in the country. Making changes which are dependent on effective enforcement may end up creating more problems than they solve.

        In countries like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and some Chinese cities, motorcycles are generally safe and very useful for alleviating both traffic and lack of parking spaces. These places also have very effective public transport networks and have recently started adding public bicycles in major cities. All of those countries had tremendous problems with traffic during their rapid development 20-30 years ago (China still does) and therefore deployed large amounts of resources in all types of traffic infrastructure (state-of-the-art subway systems, large bus networks, more highways, etc.). Road safety and effectiveness for riders in these cases improved as a result of the improved infrastructure and regulation (as you point out in your analysis) but prejudices and other perceptional changes played little part. At its core, though, the advances in safety and transportation followed drastic improvements in the rule of law rather than the other way around.

        The story in India, Vietnam, or Thailand is very different. These countries are at an earlier stage in their development but afflicted by the same traffic woes which plagued the ones above at similar development levels. They have certainly made changes: New Delhi opened a new subway a few years ago, 3-wheeler tuk tuks are everywhere in Thailand and most large Indian cities, the Vietnamese are exceptional when it comes to navigating chaos in motorcycles, small and inexpensive cars are now on sale in the Indian market. However, it is hard to see any such incremental change leading to improvements in traffic and road safety (would be curious if your sources have some statistics on these changes). Ultimately, the enforcement of any form of regulation or the development of a coherent infrastructure has been impossible in these countries due to rule-of-law issues. Anecdotally, the traffic only gets worse and the roads seem less safe. I would love to see numbers to see if these observations are factual.

        Overall, it seems like regulatory changes alone have little chance of making a difference in the Venezuelan context where laws are widely ignored. Under the current circumstances it is difficult to say whether the improvements in mobility and emissions from broadening motorcycle ridership outweigh the decreases in road safety for both accidents and crime. I know you are not proposing this as a silver bullet and that you want to begin a discussion of what the options are so we are aligned. However, when it comes to priorities, I think increases in the gas price would be a much more effective (if not politically palatable) way of improving mobility, reducing emissions, and creating safer roads than any changes to motorcycle norms. It is unclear to me how we can “get lots of motorcycles on the streets with all the positive outcomes and none of the negative ones” in the current environment. Without fixes in other areas, we could very well be getting lots of negative outcomes which offset the positive ones.


        • So, two things you mentioned that are really interesting
          1. “any effective strategy which seeks to leverage motorcycles effectively requires fundamental changes in the way laws (not just in traffic) are enforced and how the rule of law is perceived in the country.”
          -You are absolutely right!
          2. ” increases in the gas price would be a much more effective (if not politically palatable) way of improving mobility, reducing emissions, and creating safer roads than any changes to motorcycle norms”
          -If there aren’t alternative modes of transportation gas consumption will not decline and people just muster the cost. They may refrain from recreational driving, but they will be simply forced to pay more for their commute or opt for motorcycles :s. In the short term gas prices would little to no effect in traffic and studies on gas elasticity mention this. In the mid term… maybe.


          • Furthermore, raising gas prices, if anything, is bound to increase the proportion of motorcycles among vehicles in Venezuela. Because some people would go from driving in a car with no passengers, to driving in a motorcycle with no passengers to save on fuel.


          • Car pooling is a concept that has never been popular in Venezuela though I would argue that is because gas has always been extremely inexpensive. An increase in gas prices could drive some people there. Are you aware of changes in car pooling in other places as a result of gas pricing? I would be curious if there is any data on this.

            Recreational/unnecessary driving is also an issue though it would be hard to reduce some of that given the crime rate, i.e., people drive to places they could walk to because of safety reasons. Granted, this is probably only a smaller contribution.

            Finally, even if traffic is not immediately ameliorated, emissions may if people switch to smaller cars.


            • To my knowledge car pooling is seldom popular, and not price sensitive or even time sensitive. People are reticent to coordinate schedules, even when gas is expensive or commute time is measured in hours.

              The most efficient measure to incentivize, to my knowledge is limiting car transit by plates (pico y placa), since it creates reciprocal bonds to carpool (one day is my turn, the other is your turn), so parents alternate driving kids to school, co-workers/neighbors give each other rides to/from work, students/professors give each other rides to/from college, etc.

              Another, less effective, way to incentivize is with carpool lanes or lanes for high occupation vehicles (known as VAO in Venezuela). It means getting faster from place to place provided you’re taking hitchhikers, or giving someone a ride, or coordinating.

              Just look at Caracas: gas is cheap but commute time from Baruta, Los Teques, San Antonio, Guarenas, Guatire, Charallave, La Guaira is measured in hours (at least one). It’s very rare for two people with cars to coordinate carpooling if both cars function perfectly, and the VAO in the Prados del Este highway has met little success. But there was a surge in carpooling back in the days of Capriles in Baruta and Leopoldo in Chacao, when both Municipalities began a Pico y Placa program, Unfortunately, TSJ found that cars had a constitutional right to free transit in venezuela, rendering the program unenforceable, and losing all traffic speed gains due to (the now gone) carpooling.


              • Thanks for the detailed answer J. Navarro. Everything makes sense and I completely agree that car pooling would require some additional incentives to work.


  9. Have we wondered how this all began? I think the boom of the motorbikes has been cooking for quite a while and basically because of the role of “the mailman”. As our postal service sucks big times, motor bikers were seen as a solution for fast delivery between offices, clients, etc. Then the business evolve and as Caracas became impossible to drive, motor bikes took over the city. I wonder if having a decent postal service would have helped… just wondering.


    • I have made similar comments I the past. Many, many, many bikes replace what should be a single mail truck. There’re several bikes that stop at my building every single day to deliver, electric bills, gas bills, telephone bills, condo bills, etc. I have tried mailing post cards, etc. (just as a test) in the last 15 years and none make it to the final destination. Before that, it was bad too, but the mail usually made it, except that it could take several months.


  10. Motorcycles are so accident prone that the benefits of affordability and mobility are obviously very significant.

    Add to the accident-prone nature of bikes the cost of pollution; in a car you can ride with AC on and have minimal filtration, not on a bike without a mask. That is a potentially very significant hidden cost.

    Other countries rely greatly on bikes, motorized and not. One particular example is Vietnam. Lawlessness is more or less the law there too as far as drivers conduct.

    Cars in Caracas move around as if in free-flow. Lanes, not to mention traffic signals, are not considered particularly important.

    The main concern should be the safety of the bike riders. Enforcement should focus on wearing protective gear (at least a helmet) and having licenses. Perform regular spot checks. Dedicated lanes on major thoroughfares sounds like an excellent proposal, and depending on how they are instituted, perhaps as simple as painting a stripe on the pavement, perhaps not that costly. They could double as bus lanes. Another idea is generating maps with accident hotspots – a system informing motorizados where to watch out might be inexpensive and useful (maybe). Organizing some simple and short mass training events might be a good way to reduce accidents.


  11. This piece is so out of touch with reality that I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll point out a single issue. A 2-cycle bike’s PM and HC emissions dwarf those of a modern BUS. Comparing them to a car’s is ludicrous.
    See China’s (by far our main bike provider nowadays) HC standards: 0.2 grams per kilometer for light trucks Vs. 4 grams/kilometer for 2 cycle bikes and 3 grams/kilometer for 4-stroke ones. Your typical Empire Horse, with each kilometer it travels, can reach 20 TIMES the HC emissions of your Chery Pick Up truck… which is no green angel.
    Add the fact that the Chinese standard for bikes in 1991 was 12 grams/km and ponder if they are shipping the latest and the greatest, or maybe some not-so-new models
    I feel safe saying that 100 people commuting in modern cars can pollute less than a single motorizado caraqueño.

    Click to access China06.pdf


    • From http://www.wired.com:
      “Susan Carpenter lays it all out in a Los Angeles Times column. She found that, although motorcycles and scooters comprise 3.6 percent of registered vehicles in California and 1 percent of vehicle miles traveled, they account for 10 percent of passenger vehicles’ smog-forming emissions.

      Motorcycle engines are twice as efficient as automobile engines, she notes, so they generally emit less carbon dioxide. But they emit large amounts of nitrogen oxides, which along with hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide are measured by state and federal air quality regulators to determine whether vehicles meet emissions rules.

      Catalytic converters and other emissions control devices would clean things up, but they’re often too big, too heavy or too hot to install on motorcycles. For that reason and others that Carpenter outlines in the column, the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board are more lenient when it comes to motorcycle emissions.”


    • Well, the Chinese sell lots of bikes in Europe as well, but here they have to stick to the regulations. The Euro 5 standard, for example, gives the same numbers (1 g/km CO and 0.06 g/km NOx) for both bikes and passenger cars. Now, it is true that a passenger car can carry more people than a bike, but last time I checked carpooling was not big in Venezuela… or anywhere. Also, we should consider that with the bike you would actually spend less time in traffic, therefore releasing less fumes.

      I’m not saying bikes are great or anything like that. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be so quick to say they suck. A bit of reasonable regulation and actual enforcement can go a long way.


    • You do have a very good point though. Venezuela doesn’t have ANY emission standards!

      I strongly believe that we need them. Both for motorcycles and vehicles and both should be checked to allow to circulate!

      On the specific issue of emissions I encourage you to read chapter three of the link provided:

      Click to access 20110921_Motorfietsen_eindrapport_Eng.pdf

      I am keen to know what other aspects are out of touch.


        • I agree. Most people, including me, don’t trust the government (this and previous ones). Unfortunately, lf a car is checked and requires BsF20,000 of repairs to pass the inspection, the fiscal will be bribed with BsF500 to issue an OK on such inspection, and that’ll be the end of it.


      • I would think even the “loosest” of emissions (let alone safety) standards, if tested and enforced in Venezuela would require the remediation or removal of the majority of vehicles on the road, mainly belonging to the drivers least able to afford a new car. Or find parts…
        That would be a tough pill to swallow for many and given the availability of new cars…

        Here in Ontario Canada aka the nanny state we are about to phase out emissions testing because it more or less achieved its real purpose which was to do exactly the above. Remove old clunkers, stimulate a sagging auto industry and add a checkmark to the province’s green initiatives list.

        That while the trucks and buses continue to spew like cigar smokers at a poker game.

        As an avid motorcyclist I find the thought of riding in Venezuela both frightening and strangely compelling (Macanao….sigh….). But I’d be afraid of pulling up beside someone in a car who decides to shoot first.

        Up here in the nanny state I would never think of lane-splitting at any speed, but in stopped traffic we should be able to slowly take advantage of the space and thus reduce our “Passenger Car Equivalent” at the times it benefits traffic flow the most.
        As is it we risk a ticket sneaking past a stopped car on the paved shoulder to make a right turn.


        • “Venezuela would require the remediation or removal of the majority of vehicles on the road, mainly belonging to the drivers least able to afford a new car”

          I was recently in Quito. I didn’t see any gas guzzler or old cars on the streets. The taxy driver told me that, recently, Correa had a program where old cars where cashed in as part of the initial for a new car. I think, rather than an ecological measure, it was part of a strategy to decrease gas consumption, in the country with the second cheapest price of gas after Venezuela.

          The key difference is that Ecuador has no currency issues, since the economy is dollarized and there isn’t a price control on cars. So getting a new car was an easy enough proposition.



  12. I don’t know about the benefits of bikes in terms of emissions (last time I checked, Venezuela was pretty much the only place in the Americas where you could get two-strokes bikes, which have very high emissions) but I’m with Rodrigo in removing the stigma from bikes. I’ve lived in Italy for the last four years and here there’s a density of bikes at least comparable to that of Caracas. Bikers here are just as reckless as the Venezuelan ones, commonly riding swiftly on narrow historical streets that in a way are even more dangerous than Venezuelan ones, but they’re not nearly as big a problem as they are in Caracas. The difference, of course, is in the volume of traffic. Italian cities may be full of bikes, but those bikes don’t have to navigate a city packed with larger vehicles whose drivers are just as insane as the bikers. There’s more space to maneuver, and therefore less danger. So, why does Venezuela have such a large volume of traffic? Why, of course! Cheap-dirt gas!!!!

    I must confess though, that bikers flooding the highway is something I’ve never seen anywhere outside Venezuela. Not even Sicilians are that crazy.


  13. Well written Rodrigo.

    My input it more simple.I think we are dealing with a complicated problem because Venezuela is a complicated country where rules and regulations do not apply.When we fill our minds with too many details it is so easy to forget the essential: there is no way to enforce anything in Venezuela.

    Once the problem of law enforcement is fixed, then it will be easy to find a solution to the problem of motorcyclists.

    Not seeing the forest for the trees is a common problem.


  14. Wow thank you for not bashing on motorcyclists like people usually do. You should check the comments on sites like Lapatilla when there is a news article about motorcycles.


  15. “The regulation part of the equation is more challenging and it starts with education. One of the fundamental requirements for obtaining a motorcycle license should be understanding the risks. Motorizado education must start there, and followed with transit laws, proper driving and even manners, but understanding the risks is crucial.”

    Venezuela is severely lacking in driver education. A high school graduate received very little guidance on traffic signs, safety belt, traffic lights, but nothing on proper driving. Only a small percentage of drivers have gone to a driving academy, while the majority learn behind the wheel with that help of a friend or relative. This is makes everyone behind a wheel a potential danger to all the people around them. We get even less information on motorcycles than we get on cars.

    In light of the surge of motorcycles in the country, the school curricula should incorporate a lot of information and caution on the subject. After all, some kids are driving bikes at merely 14, 16, 18 years of age.

    I strongly agree with your call for regulation that makes sense to the people, instead of one that is perceived as BS. Just to add to your common sense regulations list: no driving in the opposite lane/opposite direction, motorcycle driving test to get a motorcycle driver’s license and respecting traffic lights.


    • and enforce speed limits, How many people you know in Vzla that have gotten a speeding ticket?

      Also the speed limits in friggin national highways is 80 km/h. That’s just insane. It is unreasonably low and of course people ignore them, and when they do they go at 200 km/h.


    • I honestly think that most of the issue of [the lack of] driver education has to do with the poor law enforcement. If it really did cost a good chunk of your budget to pay for a traffic ticket and not just get away with it either because you didn’t get caught or because you bribed the policeman, you’d make an effort to know your rules and follow them through.


      • Sure, enforcement is necessary, in fact we need it a lot in Venezuela.

        But we can’t delude ourselves thinking that it is sufficient. Somethings can’t be solved with a fine, a suspension of the driver’s license or jail time; like an innocent person standing on a bus stop being killed/maimed/disabled by a reckless driver, or an unskilled motorcycle driver killing himself along with his family due to a bad maneuver.

        We need better drivers. That means educating them and weeding out those who represent a danger before they claim victims. It also helps curb on police extorsion (matraqueo) if people know by hard their rights and duties.

        On the other hand, I prefer alternative solutions than just jacking up fines, since they may become a recurring expense for some SUV drivers and a bankrupting burden for people struggling to make ends meet who just had a slip-off.

        Some alternatives to fines: temporary suspension of a driver’s license, mandatory assistance to a driver seminar, community service, impounding the vehicle temporarily, holding someone caught speeding for a couple of hours (so they arrive much later than if they had complied with the speed limit), etc.


        • Well, yes. Law enforcement does not necessarily mean fines – it just means that there has to be some consequence to breaking traffic laws. Not every traffic infraction has to result in having to pay, but in the end, I guess that fines are pretty strong disincentives for breaking traffic laws, and they help raise revenue.

          (Idea copied from a certain neutral European country: fines tied to income. I like that one.)

          I agree that drivers need to be better educated as to what are their rights and duties, but all in all, I have the impression that driving well -whether it’s a car or a motorcycle or a bicycle- is not something particularly challenging, it’s just following a set of rules.


          • I think we agree. Provided those rules seem reasonable to the drivers.

            Lane sharing IS the reason to use a motorcycle in Caracas, so banning it makes regulation dead-on-arrival.

            Driving with kids is the only way lots of motorcycle drivers can get them to school (since it’s their only vehicle). Forcing kids to use helmets, and maybe some harness or something to hold them is more reasonable.

            Speed limits of 60 Km/h or 80 Km/h obsolete. That’s not the speed people drive at. What we need is to protect people driving at 100 Km/h from those who race at over 200 Km/h

            I specially like the income-indexed-fines…


            • 100 KPH, or even 120, seems fine for a highway outside populated areas (depending on highway design and other conditions). But inside a city, like Caracas, 100 KPH is too high even though that’s how fast some cars and many motorcycles drive at.


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