San Jose in 1920. What is that? By 1924 the government faced the problem of too many cars on the roads
San Jose in 1920. What is that? By 1924 the government faced the problem of too many cars on the roads. Image from

(QCOSTARICA) For a solution to the traffic nightmare of the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) of San Jose, we only need look to the past, almost 100 years ago, at a time when the country faced a similar situation of too many cars on its roads.

Although it costs to believe it, 92 years ago, the government of Ricardo Jimenez Oreamuno was faced with the problem of traffic chaos.

Today, in 2016, men, women and children daily lose hours of their lives stuck in traffic to get to and from work, school or shopping. The traffic congestion today is not only during mornings and afternoons on weekdays, but is at any time of day or night and weekends. And everywhere in the Central Valley.

Blamed for most of the congestion problems is the lack of decision making making to curb the astronomical growth of vehicle imports, improve the road network and educate drivers and consumers, by the last several governments.

And as authorities fail to make decisions and find “effective” solutions to this overwhelming problem, things will only keep getting worse.

Back in 1924, 24 years after the first cars arrived in Costa Rica, the government of Ricardo Jimenez Oreamuno faced the similar problem of just too many cars on the roads.

Responding to the problem, the Jimenez administration, like other governments in the early years of automotive history, acted cunningly and with vision. They levied taxes on vehicles. The Jimenez government went a step further, taxing “excessive” use.

What Jimenez did back in 1924 was hit drivers where it hurt the most, their wallets.

By decree, the government of Don Ricardo (his second) enacted the curious taxation of distance travelled. Not a toll, but an actual tax on the number of kilometres travelled by each vehicle within their canton (district). “Each vehicle will be taxed per kilometre it travels within the limits of the respective canton, at the sum of three colones per quarter”.

By taxing each kilometre driven, many keep their cars at home.

In the case of doubt, the decree said the data by the  Directorate General of Public Works, a forerunner to today’s Ministry of Transport and Public Works – MOPT), would be considered as definitive.

In this way, the wise forefathers slowed down the import of vehicles, not by limiting or heavily taxing the imports, but by reducing consumer use. By the way, the heavy tax on imported vehicles is one of today’s reason for the high sticker price.

Maybe today this little known model by former President Jimenez could not be applied to the letter. But the concept can: If more Costa Ricans used their cars less, we could reduce or even eliminate the nightmare lived by everyone in the country.

Of course, the less use, would require the need for a true mass transit system, like a real commuter train or car pooling, quickly come to mind.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana.

With notes from

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