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Public transport in Mexico City: overall, thumbs up

In hopes of someday helping a visitor to Mexico City, here’s my three-weeks-in assessment of the public transit options around here. Positives: plentiful & very cheap. Negatives: busy & usually warm. Major caveat: I have not yet tried the Metro/Metrobus during rush hour on a week day (7-9AM, 6-9PM), and don’t know that I would rush to do so… My assumption is it will closely emulate a can of sardines in an oven.

The Metro is not actually as confusing as this map looks

The Metro is not actually as confusing as this map looks

Mexico City Metro: A ticket to go anywhere in the network is $2 pesos (about 20 cents), dirt cheap. Purchase little paper tickets from the manned windows inside the station. The stations I’ve been in thus far have been very clean & well lit, and the trains have been the same. Both have similarly been pretty warm (not stifling, but I was definitely getting my sweat on). Everything is really well marked, and multi-line stations have plenty of signage (directing you towards the last station on the Metro line, so make a note-to-self of the final station on the line that you’re looking for). During the week, the first car on each train is set aside for “women & children only”, a nice option for ladies traveling solo.

  • Act like a local by: putting your metro ticket into the turnstile upside down (black strip up) or it won’t work.
  • Interesting facts: the Metro wasn’t damaged by the 8.1-scale 1985 earthquake, because its structures are rectangles rather than arches…. each station has a distinctive logo as well as a name, because the illiteracy rate was so high when it was first built (1969)

Metrobus: Almost as hot of a bargain, at $4.50 pesos per ride. However, there’s an $8 peso ‘deposit’ for the plastic, rechargable Metrobus card, so it actually costs you $12.50. This extended bus has one route: its own lane running north/south down the median of a lengthy portion of Avenida Insurgentes (aka “the longest urban avenue in the world”). It’s handy for getting down to spots like San Angel & UNAM. Most stops are named after the cross street that intersects Insurgentes, but a few are named after other landmarks, etc., so take a look at a map in advance. Buy tickets at machines outside of the turnstiles at the stations.

  • Act like a local by: as soon as the machine spits out your plastic card, stick it back in the slot above to actually charge it with $$.
  • Interesting facts: the Metrobus replaced 372 other buses when it opened in 2005…. it carries over 260,000 passengers daily 
Transit + circus ride all in one

Transit + circus ride all in one

Peseros/Micros: I have yet to find a website with a secret decoder ring for these micro-buses/VW buses that roam the streets of Mexico City. These puppies range in appearance from something like the one at the right to much sketchier looking ones. They generally cost $3 or $4 pesos, depending upon the route/quality of the bus, and you just pay the driver when you board. They have a fixed route, going towards the destination posted on their windshield. The peseros will pick up any passengers that flag them down along their route, so they can be a bit slow.

  • Act like a local by: riding on these, period. And, by pressing the red button near the back door to indicate you want to get off at the next street.
  • Interesting facts: if you sit in the very back seats, you will be in for the jostling of your life & are virtually guaranteed to get airborne, courtesy Mexico City’s many potholes….the peseros got their name because they originally cost only $1 peso per ride
John was excited by this pesero whose driver is apparently a Vikings fan

John was excited by this pesero whose driver is apparently a Vikings fan

Taxis: Besides “don’t drink the water”, the other best known advice about Mexico City is “don’t take the libre taxis”. There are basically two types of taxis: the libre taxis (often -but not exclusively- green/white VW bugs or red/white), and the sitio radio taxis (some will say sitio on the side, but others are unmarked). In a nutshell, you can hail the libre taxis on the street & they are cheaper, but are more dangerous. The sitio taxis can only be hailed at a sitio taxi stand or by calling the sitio taxi dispatcher on the phone; they cost more but are safer. Libre cabs use meters, whereas some sitios have meters, but others have a fixed price between two points which you should confirm as soon as you get in the cab.

The “express kidnappings” you may have heard about in Mexico City (where thugs jump into the taxi with you, rob you & take you to various ATMs to empty out your bank account) seem to only happen in libre taxis; according to the US Embassy, they don’t have any documented incidences of people having problems in sitio cabs. Anecodtally, some folks who have lived here for a while take libres if a) it’s daytime, b) they are with multiple people, and c) they know the route the taxi should be taking. Barring that, you’ll be better off keeping the phone numbers of a few sitio stands with you & calling them when you need a taxi; make sure you ask for a description of the car/license # when you call, so you know you’re getting into the taxi you called. (Sometimes libres monitor the radio transmissions of the sitios and try to beat the sitios to their fare.)

  • Act like a local by: knowing exactly where you’re going (bring a map into the cab if it’s somewhere a bit off the beaten track) and speaking enough Spanish to the cab drivers to not get ripped off
  • Interesting facts: there are over 250,000 registered cabs in Mexico City… the sitios seem to be less risky because their drivers make more money (higher fares) & are vaguely monitored (they rent space at the taxi stand where they lurk) 

Ok that’s all my hot insight for the time being, but will add more commentary as I experience it!

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5 Comments on “Public transport in Mexico City: overall, thumbs up”

  1. #1 Penny
    on Aug 5th, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Jules, The photos are FABULOUS – can feel my heartbeat increase just feasting my eyes and reading. I love the Act Like a Local Tips (and the Notes to Self). Assume you will be inundated by company wanting to try many of these adventures for themselves. Count me in that group!! [Does the embassy have a MIL Pod that could be fastened to your balcony?]
    Professional EVENT PLANNING should be a blast!!!
    Seems like the two of you are having WAY TOO MUCH FUN for working stiffs. [Envy is an ugly thing.] Love, P

  2. #2 Heidi Lee
    on Aug 17th, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    This does nothing to ease my fear of your inevitable kidnapping, Julie!

    I am working on my lack of optimism though, I promise. :)

  3. #3 John
    on Aug 24th, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Hi again Julie. I have another question for you if don’t mind. I’m going to a concert at Palacio de Deportes which ends about 11pm. What would be the best way to get back to my hotel near the Zocalo after the show? I’m afraid by the time I get out and to the Metro station, then make the necessary transfer, the Metro will be closed because it shuts down at midnight? Would a taxi be a better option? Should I take a taxi to the place so that I can make a deal with the driver to pick me up after the show? I speak decent spanish and was thinking about paying the driver extra for his pocket to pick me up afterwards. This is the most complicated part of my trip because safety at that time at night in that neighborhood is a definite concern, especially since I will be alone. Thanks for any suggestions you may have.

  4. #4 Julie
    on Aug 25th, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Hi John! If you’re feeling iffy about the Metro because of the midnight closing combined with the end of the concert, I would probably recommend the taxi option. I’ve not actually been to the Palacio so I don’t know if there’s a sitio taxi stand that is convenient/not mobbed by concertgoers. So yeah, I would vote for taking a taxi there & negotiating a rate for him to wait for you. This is very common so you shouldn’t have to pay “extra” per se… I would say it probably shouldn’t exceed $100 pesos/hour– I perceive that to be the going rate if you hire a taxi for a day to drag you around to various places, so I would think it shouldn’t cost more than that if it’s just wait time. Anyway, I don’t know what hotel you’re staying at, but hotel taxis are typically way more expensive than other sitios. If you have the time to find a sitio stand & negotiate with them directly, you should have better luck price-wise. Hope that helps!

  5. #5 John
    on Aug 25th, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Thanks so much Julie. That helps a great deal. I’ll go with negotiating at a sitio. What a great idea! I love this blog btw…been all over it the last couple days. Thanks again. :)

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