Vehicle Restrictions

Limiting Automobile Travel At Certain Times and Places


TDM Encyclopedia

Victoria Transport Policy Institute


Updated 22 May 2014

This chapter describes various strategies to limit vehicle traffic at a particular time and place.




Vehicle Restrictions include various regulatory strategies to limit automobile travel at a particular time and place.


·         Some cities discourage or prohibit automobile traffic on certain roads at certain times to create pedestrian-oriented commercial area (Car-Free Planning).


·         Some cities have Auto-Restricted Zones that limit automobile access, for example, to residents and commercial vehicles. These often have features of Car-Free Planning, Pedestrian Improvements, Traffic Calming and Location Efficient Development.


·         Some cities are divided into traffic cells that have direct walking, cycling and transit connections, but require a longer trip to travel between by private automobile.


·         Some cities have cordon Road Pricing, where motorists must pay to drive in a certain area as a traffic congestion reduction strategy.


·         Road Space Reallocation can increase the portion of road rights-of-way devoted to walking, cycling, HOV, transit and freight transport, giving them Priority over general automobile traffic.


·         Driving can be restricted based on vehicle license plate numbers. For example, vehicles with license numbers ending in 0 or 1 are prohibited from driving on Mondays, and other numbers limit driving during other weekdays. This is typically implemented as a temporary measure during air pollution emergencies, or to reduce traffic congestion during major events.



Vehicle Restrictions usually include various exemptions. For example, certain types of vehicles may be allowed in car-free areas or be exempted from no-drive days. Such exemptions may be controversial because those who qualify sometimes abuse their privileges. For example, if vehicles used by people with disabilities are allowed to drive in car-free areas, people may exaggerate a minor disability to quality, and those who have such vehicles may lend them to able-bodied friends. If medical professionals are exempt from car-free days, they may use them for leisure travel as well as critical professional trips. Motorists who do not qualify for exemptions may sometimes have a critical need to drive. One solution to this problem is to provide each resident with a limited number of exemptions (for example, giving each household five tickets each year that allow one vehicle trip that would otherwise be prohibited) or by allowing motorists to drive under otherwise restricted conditions if they pay a special toll. This gives motorists additional flexibility.



Travel Impacts

Travel impacts depend on how restrictions are applied and the quality of transport alternative. By reducing vehicle traffic such restrictions allow more Clustering which can help create more Accessible, less Automobile Dependent communities. See Land Use Impacts on Transportation for more discussion. Geographic restrictions on automobile travel, such as prohibitions on driving in a downtown area, may simply shift car trips to other parts of the urban region unless it is implemented with other disincentives to driving and improvements to walking, cycling and public transit. Similarly, restrictions based on license numbers have a number of problems (Goddard, 1997):


·         Many trips are simply deferred, not eliminated. If a motorist planned to go shopping by car, they will simply put it off until the next day, resulting in no actual reduction in mileage or emissions.


·         Many wealthier households purchase a second car with another license number, so they have one available every day. These tend to be cheap, older, high polluting vehicles. Mexico City recorded a jump in the number of vehicles owned due to this policy.


·         A large portion of vehicles must be exempted, including any vehicle used for business (taxis, delivery vehicles, vehicles used for construction work, etc.), and many professionals (doctors, salespeople, consultants, etc.) demand exceptions based on their professional needs.



For these reasons, a program that prohibits each vehicle from driving 20% of days does not necessarily result in a 20% reduction in total vehicle travel. Actual travel reductions are likely to be half that amount or less.


Table 1          Travel Impact Summary

Travel Impact



Reduces total traffic.


Depends on measures implemented.

Reduces peak period traffic.


For time-based restrictions.

Shifts peak to off-peak periods.


Shifts automobile travel to alternative modes.



Improves access, reduces the need for travel.


Reduced traffic can improve cycling and walking conditions.

Increased ridesharing.



Increased public transit.



Increased cycling.



Increased walking.



Increased Telework.



Reduced freight traffic.


Freight vehicles are usually exempt from such restrictions.

Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.



How it is Implemented

Most vehicle restrictions are implemented by local or regional governments, often as part of a downtown revitalization program or neighborhood traffic management plan, or during a period of exceptional traffic congestion or pollution.



Benefits And Costs

When they are effective, vehicle restrictions can reduce traffic congestion, road and parking facility costs, crash risk, pollution emissions and local environmental impacts. They can improve community Livability. Restricting urban vehicle traffic can have Safety benefits (Cairns, 1999). Because such programs tend to be implemented in areas and at times when vehicle impacts are greatest, these benefits can be significant. The actual magnitude of benefits depends on circumstances. If a program is poorly designed or there are inadequate travel alternatives, benefits may be small or negative, because automobile use simply shifts to other routes and times. Comprehensive TDM programs that include vehicle use restrictions can reduce automobile use and improve mobility for alternative modes.


Costs include program and enforcement expenses, increased travel costs and reduced mobility for motorists, and possible spillover effects (such as increased driving at other times or in other areas). An ineffective vehicle restriction programs that reduces access in urban areas may increase sprawl by encouraging businesses and residents to choose suburban locations.


Table 2          Benefit Summary




Congestion Reduction


Can reduce automobile use.

Road & Parking Savings


Consumer Savings


Mixed. Increases motorists’ costs, reduces costs for other modes.

Transport Choice


Limits driving, improves other modes.

Road Safety


Reduces traffic.

Environmental Protection


Reduces traffic.

Efficient Land Use


Can reduce sprawl if effective, can increase sprawl if ineffective.

Community Livability


Reduces local traffic impacts and increases local access.

Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.



Equity Impacts

Some people consider vehicle restrictions, such as no-drive days based on license numbers, to be more equitable than pricing to reduce automobile travel (since restrictions force all residents to reduce driving, not just those with lower incomes), but in practice many higher-income motorists avoid travel reductions by purchasing a second car or hiring a taxi.


Area restrictions impact some groups more than others: Some businesses and residents may benefit, while others are made worse off, depending on how much they depend on automobile travel. Vehicle use restrictions in one area my cause spillover impacts in other areas, such as increased traffic and parking congestion on nearby roads. Vehicle restrictions that are successful at reducing total vehicle traffic (rather than just shifting it to other times or routes) tend to reduce external costs of motor vehicle traffic. Vehicle restrictions that improve conditions for other modes (walking, cycling and public transit) are likely to increase vertical equity, because lower income and transportation disadvantaged people tend to rely heavily on alternative modes. If vehicle restrictions do not include appropriate exemptions for motorists with special needs, some transportation disadvantaged people (e.g., motorists with physical disabilities) may be made worse off. If vehicle restrictions include appropriate exemptions, they can increase basic access by favoring people with special needs and higher value trips.


Table 3          Equity Summary




Treats everybody equally.


This is often a major issue.

Individuals bear the costs they impose.


Reduces external costs of driving.

Progressive with respect to income.


Can improve walking, cycling and transit.

Benefits transportation disadvantaged.


Can improve walking, cycling and transit.

Improves basic mobility.


Depends on program details.

Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.




Different types of vehicle restrictions have different applications. Most are most applicable by regional or municipal governments in urban areas and resort communities.


Table 4          Application Summary





Large urban region.


Federal government.


High-density, urban.


State/provincial government.


Medium-density, urban/suburban.


Regional government.




Municipal/local government.


Low-density, rural.


Business Associations/TMA.


Commercial center.


Individual business.


Residential neighborhood.




Resort/recreation area.


Neighborhood association.






Ratings range from 0 (not appropriate) to 3 (very appropriate).




Incentive to Reduce Driving



Relationships With Other TDM Strategies

Many other TDM strategies are supported by vehicle travel restrictions, including Car-Free Planning, Nonmotorized Planning, Public Transit Improvements, Traffic Calming, Smart Growth, Location Efficient Planning and Commute Trip Reduction programs.




Most vehicle restrictions are implemented by local or regional governments, with administrative responsibilities given to transportation and law enforcement agencies. Business and residents in affected areas are often significantly impacted by restrictions. Neighborhood and business associations are often involved in traffic restriction planning.



Barriers To Implementation

Political acceptability is usually a major barrier to vehicle restrictions. Motorists and some businesses are likely to oppose vehicle restrictions. Ineffective planning, administration and enforcement can also present barriers.



Best Practices

·         Vehicle restrictions should be implemented in conjunction with other TDM strategies, including improvements in alternative travel options and other disincentives to reduce driving.


·         Restrictions based on license numbers or similar systems should only be implemented briefly, or motorists are likely to find ways to circumvent them, such as purchasing second cars.



Wit and Humor



Q. How do you put an elephant in a refrigerator?

A. You open the door, pick up the elephant, place it inside, and close the door.


Q. How do you put a giraffe in a refrigerator?

A. You open the door, take out the elephant, and replace it with the giraffe.


Q. If you have a party for all the animals, which animal would not be there?

A. The giraffe. It’s still in the refrigerator.


Q. How many bears can you put in a car?

A. Four. Two in the front seats, and two in the back seats.


Q. How many lions can you put in a car?

A. None. Its still full of bears.



Examples and Case Studies

Chinese Cities Vehicle Restrictions (Feng and Li 2013)

Large Chinese cities, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, have implemented various policies policy to control car ownership growth.


Since 2005, a national public-transit-priority strategy has been established. Many cities invested heavily in building public transit infrastructure, and upgraded policies to encourage people to take buses and subways.


The first and most famous city in China that regulates car ownership is Shanghai. In 1986, Shanghai instituted a bidding mechanism (with a reservation price) in allocating licences to automobile owners. The bidding mechanism has undergone several major changes since then. The policy was also modified when national and local economic planning and policy changed. For example, the automobile industry was promoted in 1994 as the pillar industry by the national government to boost economic growth. As one of the manufacturing centres for automobiles, Shanghai adopted temporary policies to stimulate car sales of local manufacturers by issuing low cost licences at that time. In 2000, the bidding mechanism changed from one with reservation price to one without reservation price. In 2003, the bidding mechanism was homogenized between imported vehicles and domestic vehicles.


As vehicle registration fees in other provinces are much lower, many people choose to register their vehicles elsewhere to avoid the auction process. To discourage local residents from doing so, the Shanghai government stipulates that during peak hours (7:30-9:30am and 4:30-6:30pm), vehicles with non-local licence plates cannot enter the elevated roads or the intra-city expressway system. With this restriction in place, the auction can effectively control the annual growth of private cars. Meanwhile, revenues from the auction have been spent on the improvement of ring roads and the development of public transit system. These two measures are combined to buy time to develop the public transit system so that it can keep pace with rapid urban expansion.


The 2008 Olympic Games provided a valuable testing ground for implementing innovative transport management measures. During the Olympics, the right to drive alternated according to whether the plate number was an odd or even number. After the Olympics, the policy was modified to factor in the last digit of the plate number, and each car had to be off the road at least one day per week.


Starting January 2011, to further reduce road traffic, the Beijing government started a lottery. This policy has three key elements:

1. The quota for annual vehicle growth and its structure are set according to an analysis of road capacity, environmental sustainability and projected demand;

2. Currently, monthly quota is set at 20,000, with 88% to individuals, 10% to companies and other organisations, and the remaining 2% to operators of transportation services;

3. Companies and individuals go through separate lottery processes to get their rights to own. This right is non-transferable and effective for six months. It lapses if the individual or company fails to register a car before the deadline. Companies and individuals who already own a car licence can renew their licence on a new car if the old car is sold or scrapped. This right also lapses within six months.


Beijing also started restricting the road rights of vehicles with non-local licences. During peak hours, non-local vehicles are banned from entering road networks within the 5th ring. Meanwhile, Beijing’s generous subsidy to transit fares and construction of BRT pulled many people away from their cars. These measures all facilitated the smooth implementation of Beijing’s integrated transport management plan.


Starting July, 2012 Guangzhou began a mixed-quota system that combines a lottery and an auction to allocate vehicle registrations. The annual quota is set at 120,000, or 10,000 per month. There are three categories: a lottery for alternative energy vehicles, a lottery for regular vehicles and an auction for regular vehicles. In the auction, the reserve price is ¥10,000. Each month the allotted quotas for these categories are approximately 1,000, 5,000, and 4,000 respectively. From the quota of each category, 88% goes to individuals, and the remaining 12% is assigned to companies, organisations and government agencies. The new regulation also restricts the road rights of those vehicles registered elsewhere. This aims to prevent residents of Guangzhou from registering their vehicles elsewhere.



Residents only, please: small, prestigious west Orange town of Windermere hopes to fight monster rush-hour traffic with fines for drivers who don’t live there.

By Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel, 12 November 2004

Its high-priced, lakefront homes maintain Windermere as one of Central Florida’s most exclusive places to live. Now orange-and-white barrels along many of its narrow, dirt side streets make it one of the most exclusive places to drive.


In a radical move to grapple with crippling morning and afternoon traffic, the town of 2,200 has come up with a plan to keep outsiders from jamming its side streets. With barricades of construction barrels, the town would like to bar nonresidents from many of its public roads during daily rush hours. Drivers without Windermere addresses who are pulled over on a blocked street could be fined $200. Will access to certain roads become the next status symbol in west Orange County?


“If we only had to deal with Windermere residents, we wouldn’t have a traffic problem,” said Jim Willard, a Town Council member and attorney for an Orlando law firm. He said the move isn’t an “elitist, us-versus-them thing.”


“It’s not that at all,” Willard said. “It’s a simple traffic-control measure. There are very little alternatives or other measures available to us. I think we’re doing the best we can in a difficult situation.”


Town officials say they are trying to keep sandy streets safe from speeders who cut through to avoid bumper-to-bumper waits at the four-way stop at Sixth Avenue and Main Street, the town’s two main roads. If the change discourages drivers from passing through the town on their way from neighboring Ocoee or the budding Horizon West development to jobs in Orlando or at Disney – you won’t hear council members complaining. Outside the town, which acts as a land bridge among the Butler Chain of Lakes, west Orange County is growing at a record pace. Growth? No thank you


Windermere, where the median home price last year was more than $480,000, has just three paved roads and no traffic lights. When it comes to development, it just wants to be left alone. “We don’t want to grow,” said Mayor Gary Bruhn. “All we want to do is protect what we have.”


Early next year the town expects to spend $3 million on its first major construction project downtown, which will add two traffic roundabouts on Main Street in an effort to smooth the traffic flow. The construction is expected to intensify congestion in the three-block business district, increasing driver temptation to find a shortcut.


“We’ve turned one-lane, dirt streets into thoroughfares. It’s not only a bad idea, but an unsafe idea,” council member Dean Fresonke said. “The town’s roads were never designed for the amount of traffic flowing through them right now.”


Paving more roads or installing a stoplight are not up for discussion. “That’s the whole point of being in Windermere,” Willard said of the rustic, shabby-chic flavor inside the town limits, where mansions butt up against simple Cracker-style homes. It contrasts with the ostentatious, nouveau riche flair of neighboring Isleworth, where sports celebrities such as Shaquille O’Neal live just over its border. In July, the council decided to limit traffic on four of its side streets during rush hours. Last week the members voted to expand that to more than a dozen.


Local Traffic Only

The barrels hold signs that warn “Local Traffic Only” and threaten the $200 penalty from 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. So far, the town’s police force of 12 full-time officers has issued hundreds of warnings, but no fines. The council voted to continue the warning period for several more months while its attorney researches the legality of defining “local” as Windermere residents. Nonresidents are exempt if they are visiting a Windermere home or business, council members agreed.


Creating that distinction raised the eyebrows of some council members. “How do we say that these Windermere residents can use the streets and others can’t? The answer is I don’t know,” said City Attorney Cliff Shepard, who says he is still researching the issue. The town may face an even larger problem. An advisory opinion from Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist’s office earlier this year suggests that putting up “No Thru Street” signs on public roads is illegal. It referred to an attempt, not unlike Windermere’s, by the city of Cape Coral to alleviate traffic woes.


State law does not authorize cities “to limit the right of the public to use such roadways for the exclusive benefit of the homeowners in the area and their invitees,” the opinion states. Shepard pointed, however, to the same state traffic manual referenced in the opinion. It allows for signs similar to Windermere’s that read, “Road Closed -- Local Traffic Only.”


Town residents’ only complaints about the effort center on the “hideous” and “aesthetically painful” barricades that now sit at the entrance of most side streets. One resident suggested using wine barrels instead. “They’re so ugly,” Denise Laden said. “They’re eyesores,” chimed in her husband, Jim. Because “prettier barrels” are not a likely option, the council’s decision calls for them to be removed in 90 days with the warning signs posted on the roadsides.



Amsterdam Vehicle Reductions (Lemmers 1995)

The city of Amsterdam is reducing automobile traffic significantly using a combination of restrictions on parking and road access matched with improvements in pedestrian, cycling and public transit services.



Mexico City No Drive Days (Goddard 1997)

Mexico City implemented no-drive days during periods of extreme air pollution. Under this rule, a car could only be used every other day, depending on whether the license plate had an odd or even number. When the duration of these restrictions increased, many wealthier households bought second cars to use those days. Most of these cars were cheap, older, high-polluting cars. The policy has since been dropped.



Bologna, Italy (Beatley 2000)

Bologna residents voted overwhelmingly to designate its historic center a “car-restricted zone” (zona a traffico limitato). Between 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., only residents, business owners, taxis, delivery vehicles, and other vehicles with special access needs are permitted to enter the area. More than 82,000 vehicle permits have been issued. An automated vehicle licence plate identification system verifies compliance. As a result, the number of vehicles entering the core during the restricted period decline 62%, although traffic is a major problem during the late evening when automobiles are no longer restricted.



Bremen, Germany (Vuchic 1999)

In the early 1960s, the city of Bremen was divided into four sectors, or “traffic cells.” Automobiles are allowed to travel within each cell, but to travel between these cells they must use a circumferential ring road. Pedestrian, bicycle and transit vehicles can travel directly between these cells. As a result, vehicle traffic volumes are significantly reduced and travel by other modes is significantly improved.



Gothenburg, Sweden (Vuchic 1999)

The city of Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city, with almost half a million residents. In the late 1960s, the city’s historic center was divided into five traffic cells. As in Bermen, automobiles can travel within each cell but not directly between cells, they must use a ring road. Pedestrian, bicycle and transit vehicles can travel directly between cells. The result has been a 48% reduction in vehicle traffic despite increased vehicle ownership by residents, improved pedestrian and cycling conditions (and a 45% reduction in pedestrian accidents), and improved transit service.



Dutch National Environment Plan (NEPP 3;

The central goal of the Dutch National Environment Plan (NEPP) is to decouple economic growth from the growth in fuel consumption and the use of non-renewable resources. In passenger transport the Dutch are successfully constraining the growth in car use and ensuring that an average of 28% of all passenger transport trips are made by bicycle with that increasing to 34% of trips by 2010. Without the NEPP it was expected that car kms would increase by 72% over the period 1986 to 2010. With the NEPP this increase will be lowered to 48%. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions from the car fleet are declining. The Netherlands has a newer, less polluting vehicle fleet, with 41% of passenger cars powered by LPG, which produces 14 % less GHG and significantly less air pollution.



References And Resources For More Information


Sally Cairns (1999), The Impacts of Reallocating Roadspace on Accident Rates: Some Initial Evidence, Road Danger Reduction Forum conference (; available at


Carfree Cities Network Website (


Carfree Day Website (


Suwei Feng and Qiang Li (2013), “Car Ownership Control In Chinese Mega Cities: Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou,” JOURNEYS, LTA Academy (; at


Fused Grid Website (


Haynes Goddard (1997), “Using Tradable Permits to Achieve Sustainability in the World’s Large Cities,” Environmental and Resource Economics, Vol. 10, 1997, pp. 63-99; at


Leo Lemmers (1995), “How Amsterdam Plans to Reduce Car Traffic,” World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 25-28.


Lyon Protocol (1997), The Design And Implementation Of Large Car-Free Districts In Existing Cities, Car Free Cities (


OECD (1995), Urban Travel and Sustainable Development, OECD (, pp. 114-115.


Vukan R. Vuchic (1999), Transportation for Livable Cities, CUPR Press (

This Encyclopedia is produced by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute to help improve understanding of Transportation Demand Management. It is an ongoing project. Please send us your comments and suggestions for improvement.




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