Searching for alternative ways of mobility in the metropolis of Mexico City
Over a decade ago, when I was an undergraduate, I used to commute daily to Santa Fe, one of Mexico City’s major business districts -and a former landfill, isolated from the city. By all accounts, it was a painful experience. I lived in a central district and it took me about one hour -and various transport means- to get to my university. The trip started mostly well, but upon arriving to a Santa Fe’s nearby metro station for taking a bus, it became a woeful experience. Street vendors were all around. It was dirty, stinky, and chaotic. Deplorable, uncoordinated and unsafe buses were my daily tale.
Four months ago, I came back to my university to take a course. After leaving my bike at the office –because there are no conditions for biking to that area-, I embarked on the same awful ride. After a decade, decidedly there was no improvement. It got even worse, as traffic levels have markedly increased. But buses haven’t been replaced and are very old!
On my way to the university, I realized that two new underpasses and an overpass had been built for motorized vehicles. Armed police men stood in several of the pedestrian bridges erected along the way. They were protecting drivers from robberies. A sorrowful scene.
Around 850 thousand trips are made daily in Santa Fe according to The Study of Mobility in Santa Fe (2015) carried out by CTS Embarq Mexico. Trips are mainly related to corporate activities. People come from various districts of Mexico City and from the state of Mexico. Yet no mass transit option exists. The same study revealed that an employee working in this region spends 26 days a year stuck in traffic jams.
The case of Santa Fe illustrates the lack of adequate urban transport and the absence of city planning in the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City. This has strong implications in the competitiveness and efficiency of the city and in the quality of life of its inhabitants.
The Metropolis comprises 16 districts of Mexico City, 59 districts of state of Mexico and 1 district of the state of Hidalgo in an extension of about 7.9 thousand square kilometers (INEGI 2013). This territory includes over 20 million inhabitants. And an increase of 2 million inhabitants is expected for 2020. Those habitants will be mainly distributed in the state of Mexico.
Overall, there are 49 million trips a day in the Metropolis (INEGI in CTS EMBARQ), of which over 4 million are made between the state of Mexico and Mexico City –called Metropolitan trips- (Sedema). In the worst cases, these trips can last up to 5 hours a day and their associated expenditures represent half the earnings of an employee earning a Mexican minimum wage
Inner trips in Mexico City are less severe, but still long and inconvenient. People spend, on average, about 2 hour travelling a day (CTS EMBARQ).
Around seven out of ten trips were made by public transportation in the Metropolis -six of which were made by a low capacity transport and one by mass transit transport. The remaining trips were made by private car.
After college, I lived a couple of years in Germany as a postgraduate student. When I compare Mexico’s rides with the ones existing in Germany, I am both disappointed and bothered. Organized, integrated, convenient, and accessible are some adjectives for describing urban transportation in Germany – although I know some Germans will disagree. It was not perfect but far better than the Mexico City’ Metropolis provides.
The Institute for Business Value in its last Commuter Pain Study revealed that Mexico City, jointly with Beijing, were the most painful cities for commuting in 2010. However, the index only measures the emotional and economic toll of commuting for drivers.
Dinamia jointly with El Poder del Consumidor (the Power of Consumer) and The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) asked commuters from the state of Mexico about their perception of their trips to Mexico City. The study (2014) revealed marked differences between public and private transport.
On average, public transport took significantly longer for commutes between the state of Mexico and Mexico City. 28% of commuters by public transport spent over two hours, whereas only 8% of drivers spent that time. Accordingly, 27% of car drivers affirmed choosing private transport because it was faster. 43% respondents mentioned safety as their first reason for commuting by car, and 21% due to convenience.
In a poll conducted by The Thomson Reuters in collaboration with the Company YouGov in 2014, Mexico City’s transport system was ranked as the second most dangerous for women. Only behind Bogota of a pool of 16 largest capitals. Almost two-thirds of the women surveyed reported physical harassment while riding.
Our urban transport system is certainly inefficient, inequitable and unsustainable.
The first time I went to Die Oper in Berlin, I was glad to see people leaving the opera-house and walking down to the U-bahn and bus station. Last month, I went to the opera in Bellas Artes, one of the most prominent cultural centers in the heart of Mexico City. Even though there was a metro station right next to the opera, I did not see that many people taking the public transport or walking. In contrast, many visitors either walked to the parking lots or requested a ride hailing service.
A confluence of factors explains the crummy transport means in the Metropolis.
First, the current approach for transportation management is old, inspired on the former idea that cars would bring modernism and speed. Investing three quarters of transportation budget in infrastructure for private motorized car and allocating 85% of the transport area to 30% of commuters who are drivers shows authorities have prioritized private transport over public.
Decision makers financed private motorized vehicles through fuel subsidies and null tax rates. As car ownership relates to income, investing in car infrastructure is a regressive policy – it enhances income inequality.
When you build for cars and neglect public transport, what you get is cars. No wonder there are millions of empowered, spoiled drivers. They remain unaware and unaccountable for the externalities they cause. Congestion, accidents, and pollution are some of them.
Second, there is lack of coordination among local authorities and inadequate institutional design. For instance, during decades housing programs financed developments in Mexico City’s outskirts separate from the transportation system planning. As a result, there is urban sprawl and low density. In turn, it increased commuting distances and shrank profitability of investing in public transport systems.
Six months ago, Mexico City’s mayor announced the gradual implementation of a program called Vision Zero. Inspired in the Sweden experience, it was intended to reduce fatal traffic accidents –according to CONAPRA (2013), in 2011 one thousand people died in Mexico City due to road accidents.
As part of the program, there was a new transit regulation. However, so far its implementation has been meager. For instance, I continuously witness how drivers neglect it, with no consequence. For drivers, it is a common practice to park in sidewalks and exclusive lanes for bikes and trolleybuses. Authorities are silent.
Third, transportation modes are fragmented. The combined performance of small and large-scale public and private operators is poor -metro is publicly provided, whereas most microbuses and buses are privately provided. As for private operators, the allocation process of licenses and their associated conditions are mostly deficient. And their monitoring is poorly designed and implemented.
A forth reason is the lack of orientation toward users in transportation services. It is symptomatic to several Mexican institutions and authorities. Thus, there are no real participatory mechanisms and no accessible, useful data for users.
Fortunately, a growing number of civil groups is claiming the rights of pedestrians, cyclists, and riders in the Metropolis. They ask for an efficient, dignified commutes. The prevalence of those movements points out that the current mobility approach is wrong. All this is done with the ultimate aim of improving livability in the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City. Certainly, there are alternative ways for managing urban transport systems.
This piece is the original writing of the author(s). The view points in the post is the author’s personal opinions and do not reflect IGLUS/EPFL’s viewpoints. The author(s) is the sole responsible person regarding the accuracy of the information presented in the post and will be liable for any potential copyright infringements.