Quito Ecuador: The effect of driving restrictions to curb pollution on criminal activity

Posted on October 13, 2016 • Filed under: Crime, Ecuador, Ecuador Emergency

Inter-American Development Bank
Felipe Herrera Library
Pollution or crime: the effect of driving restrictions on criminal activity / Paul E.
Carrillo, Andrea López, Arun Malik.

Driving restriction programs have been implemented in many cities around the world to alleviate pollution and congestion problems. Enforcement of such programs
is costly and can potentially displace policing resources used for crime prevention
and crime detection. Hence, driving restrictions may increase crime.
To test this hypothesis, this paper exploits both temporal and spatial variation in
the implementation of Quito, Ecuador’s Pico y Placa program and evaluates its effect
on crime. Both difference-in-difference and spatial regression discontinuity estimates provide credible evidence that driving restrictions can increase crime rates.

; Carrillo et al. (2015) show that Quito’s driving restriction program, which restricts vehicles one day a week during peak hours, reduces carbon monoxide levels by almost 10%. The \success” of Quito’s
program is attributed, to a large extent, to its strict enforcement.In this paper we identify a side-e ect of driving restrictions that has yet to be studied:driving restrictions may increase crime rates

It is clear that driving restrictions can havea direct impact on congestion and pollution, but why would they a ect criminal activity? The crime-and-punishment literature suggests at least two reasons.
First, enforcement of driving restrictions is a resource-intensive endeavor that is typically
the responsibility of the police. The marginal cost of committing a crime depends on the
frequency with which criminal activities are detected. When driving restrictions are imposed, the burden of enforcement could result in fewer policing resources being allocated to crime
prevention. As crime prevention decreases, so does the marginal cost of crime.
Second, the cost of committing a crime also depends on the availability of opportunities to engage
in criminal activities. If a driving restriction policy is successfully enforced, it can increase
pedestrian flows and public transportation use, raising the number of potential victims. In
equilibrium, a decrease in the marginal cost of committing a crime would result in higher
crime rates….

Pico y Placa(PyP) went into e ect in Quito on May 3, 2010. It restricts access to
the central part of the city. The last digit of a vehicle’s license plate number determines the one day of the week on which the vehicle is barred from the road. The PyP program is
well suited to being studied because of the availability of data on criminal o enses for the
parts of the city that are subject to PyP restrictions as well as those that are not. Moreover,
the program restricts vehicles during workday rush (or peak) hours but not weekends or
holidays. These features of the program (spatial and temporal variance) are exploited to
identify treatment effects…


Driving restrictions have been a popular instrument in many cities around the world to alleviate pollution and congestion problems. While there is mixed evidence in the literature about the effectiveness of these programs to improve air quality and alleviate congestion, our study is the first to document an important side-effect etc: increasing crime rates. Programs that restrict vehicle flows may primarily affect criminal activity because program enforcement is costly and can potentially displace resources used for crime prevention and crime detection. Driving restrictions may also raise pedestrian flows, increasing the number of potential victims.To test these hypotheses we evaluate the effect of Quito’s Pico y Placa program on crime. Our identification strategy exploits both temporal and spatial variation in the implementation of the program. Findings provide credible evidence that driving restrictions can increase crime. For instance, results from a DD identification strategy suggests that crime rates during the specific period when PyP takes effect increased between 5% and 10% after the introduction of PyP. We see no changes when the DD models are estimated with \placebo” samples. Furthermore, the post-treatment density of crime shows substantial excess mass near the boundary, particularly in the area just inside the restricted zone. These patterns are not present during the pre-treatment period. In our view, the combined empirical evidence presented in this paper supports our main hypothesis: driving restrictions can affect crime rates.The use of driving restrictions has been an attractive non-market policy to deal with congestion problems. Our study warns about non-negligible side effects produced by these programs given high (opportunity) costs of enforcement. Given a fixed stock of resources to jointly monitor traffic regulations and criminal activity, policy makers in cities with driving restrictions may have to choose between congestion or crime, until other (perhaps market oriented) mechanisms are implemented to solve these urban problems. Read Full Paper – in pdf

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