To Drive or Not To Drive? Traffic and Transportation in Mexico City

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 4.15.49 PMBy Carole Reedy

Most Chilangos arrive at a destination with two words on their lips, followed by a moan: “the traffic!” Although they complain, people who drive continue to do so and rarely consider taking a bus or the metro. And thus the debate between driving and public transport continues. Economics figures into it. Certainly a great portion of the population can’t afford a car, so it’s a moot point for them. But for those with a choice, there are two distinct camps. Here are the pros and cons of both options, keeping in mind that this writer is an unreserved proponent of public transportation in DF.

DF’s Public Transportation System

It’s hard to believe, but on the underground subway system known as the Metro you can get on, change trains, and travel miles and miles for literally pennies: 3 pesos, or about 25 cents US. The Metro is fast, obviously, because it avoids the traffic above it. But, yes, there are hitches. During rush hour it’s almost unbearable. The cars are crowded, it’s agonizing to get on and off, and in the summer months it’s hot and sweaty. But if you can avoid the hours between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., you’ll get to your destination quickly…and you may even get a seat. Weekends are better too, of course.

Rush hour is a problem on all public transport, but that is true the world over. It’s also true if you’re driving a car.

For claustrophobics who prefer to travel above ground, there are several options, the best being the Metrobus, the big red bus that whizzes down the avenues in its own lane, unhampered by traffic. The cost is 5 pesos (45 cents). There are several routes, and the city is adding new ones all the time. The first car is designated (as is the underground Metro) for women, seniors, and disabled persons. And the new route that goes directly to Terminals 1 and 2 of the airport costs 30 pesos, far cheaper than a taxi and there’s also space for luggage on this line.

Buses large and small dot the city’s streets. The smaller ones, a type of microbus known as peseros, can be seen everywhere in DF, including streets on which other forms of transportation can’t maneuver. The name pesero, which can be interpreted as “peso collector,” derives from the first buses, which charged a flat fee of 1 peso per ride. There have been several different incarnations of this type of transport, but today they’re small green buses, often not appearing to be in good condition. They travel fixed routes, and you can hop on and off anywhere. Affixed to the windshield are the destinations, usually indicated by the nearest Metro stop or other distinct landmarks such as a Walmart, hospital, or market. The fare is determined by the distance of your destination.

The large green buses that travel down the main avenues such as Reforma are safer and more comfortable. These buses cost a fixed price of between 2 to 5 pesos.

Owning a Car in DF

Door to door: this appears to be the advantage and attraction of driving. Oops, not quite.   Don’t forget parking. If it isn’t rush hour, you may get to your destination faster in your own car, especially if you’re an aggressive driver. If you aren’t, be sure to drive defensively to avoid an accident. Given the expense of owning a car–paying for insurance, parking, repairs, maintenance, registration, and plate fees–economics favors public transportation. Plus for many of us the stress of dealing with the city’s crazy drivers is greatly reduced by taking public transportation. Drivers often disagree with the latter, citing the comfort and privacy of their own space in an automobile as the reason they avoid crowds in the metro. As one friend says ‘I just love my car.’

Taxi or Bicycle

Taxis are another great option. They’re inexpensive and give the passenger privacy while avoiding the masses on public transport. There are three types of taxis: those you hail on the street, sitio taxis (meaning you pick up the taxi at a specific site, such as a hotel or designated street corner), and radio taxis (that you call). The latter two claim to be more secure by monitoring their drivers and rides and it’s advisable to use these taxis for your evening arrangements. Whatever type of taxi you choose, check the meter or agree on a fixed price beforehand. You may have heard about “express kidnappings” on the taxis in DF. If you hail taxis on the street, you may want to send a text message to a friend with the taxi’s number. I’ve personally never had any problem and I don’t know anyone who has.

The liberal government of DF is forever on the search for greener ways to travel, and thus the increase in public transportation services and bike lanes throughout the city. As a pedestrian, beware. Bikes are supposed to obey traffic laws but they, as well as motorcycles, don’t always adhere to the rules. In fact, neither do many cars and buses. Don’t assume that everyone stops at a stoplight! John Dryden said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” Habit is probably the most significant factor in daily life, including how we get to our workplace, school, soccer game, theater, and weekly book club. We don’t always think twice about options–we simply do that which we are accustomed.

Try one of the alternatives listed here for a change…and a new perspective on the city.