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What do you think about public transit in Mexico City??

I received a random email yesterday from the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (a.k.a. the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness). Take a look at the text below:


Dear Julie,

I work for the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), a local think-tank focused on issues of competitiveness. I’m currently involved in a project about urban mobility in DF and its suburbs. One of the channels through which mass transit and mobility affect the local economy is tourism. I ran a quick search of “mass transit DF tourism” and found your blog. Although you are not/ were not a tourist, I think you might have a few ideas as to how the local mass transit system can better serve the needs of foreign visitors. Obviously our initial premise is that more people would come to DF, and stay longer, if mass transit was more “foreigner-friendly”. If you could share some thoughts on this topic, we would be very grateful indeed. I have not been able to find any surveys or field studies about what foreign tourists think of Mexico City’s transit and how that affects their sight-seeing patterns.

Best regards,

(name withheld to protect the innocent)


Needless to say, I was flattered to be viewed as a possible resource for any organization who falls into the category of think-tanks! And while I certainly have some ideas of how to improve public transit in Mexico City, I figured– why not also solicit feedback from my loyal readers??  (That’s you, Mom & Dad.)

Anyway, if you’re part of the majority of my readers who either live in or have visited Mexico City, please take a minute & leave a comment below. Mexico City is trying to polish itself up for you folks!  Help it help you, people. :) If you have any hot suggestions of how mass transit here might be improved to make life easier for tourists, please let me know & I shall pass it along to the investigator at the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad. Perhaps on your next trip to DF, you will see your brilliance implemented & will be able to tell all your kids about the time you consulted for a think-tank. (pro bono) 😉  Thanks much!

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  1. Monica says:

    your question arrived exactly today when I spent 1 hour trying to figure out what metro/buses should I take to get from point A to point B in this big city

    the DF public transport web page doesn’t offer this option. These people should have a look and see what other cities do in this respect (e.g. http://www.atac.roma.it/ for Rome, Italy)

    Then, as a driver i couldn’t help noticing how unproductive the green small peseros are. Plus their drivers don’t know anything about driving, traffic rules, politeness. They don’t give people tickets for their journey so I figure out tax problem is not an issue for the DF public transport:) not giving ticket means, among other problems, the passengers have more rights(quid pro quo)and they get to decide where to get off the bus. This is how all the right lanes are a mess in this city because peseros stop for the lazy people who cannot walk some other50 meters.

    So bus stops is a problem and the fact they are not used is a huge problem.

    I would add peseros should be removed, giving space to big buses like the Metrobus. I am so surprised these Metrobus are never crowded (it is the price).
    People are so proud the DF Metro ticket is the cheapest in the world but the price reflects the quality.
    I would introduce the subscription, as everywhere in the world, for all the public transport, and increase the price for the one way tickets. same for buses.

    I am pleased people are finally seeing in improving the public transport the solution against pollution.
    I’ve been living here for 2 years and my conclusion was no one is interested in make it better, since everybody used a car.

    I also recommend everybody this article, as Curitiba (Brasil) is considered a model in Latin America regarding the public transport.


    all the best, a Transylvanian in Mexico.

  2. I would love it if DF could adopt a unified payment system. Perhaps extend the pass for the Metrobus to the Metro and other city busses?

  3. Crayton says:

    Oh man! This is neato!

    I know most tourists would rather not be sardines, so unless the city can suddenly solve the congestion problem, it would be good to give them some idea about when peak hours are for the Metro and Metrobus so they can avoid being squished.

    The city’s already trying to get rid of the vendors on the Metro cars, I think. Some people consider them charming. I don’t. I have to tolerate their yelling, their blaring radios and their attempts to squeeze past me on a crowded train.

    Maybe some sort of EcoBici guest pass? The city’s efforts to promote cycling are really great and should be a big wow factor for tourists, but it’d be nice if they could ride the bikes themselves. (And please, please, please find a way to enforce the rules and keep cars out of the ciclovia on Reforma.)

    The Metro’s Olympic-era fonts and symbols for the stations are super-cool, and the city should have a store where you can buy official Metro T-shirts and coffee mugs. I want a T-shirt with the Coyoacan coyote symbol so bad. Take a page from NY’s metro and capitalize on this triumph of design.

    Finally? We need way better maps. The Metro’s website now offers maps of the local area around each station, which is great. But it should do a better job of showing where points of interest are and how long it would take to walk to them. And it should be better integrated with the Metrobus, which has really poor online maps. Oh, and all this stuff should be available on mobile devices as well.

    Almost forgot – on the Metrobus, it’s very difficult to determine when you’ve reached your stop. The signage is difficult to see from the crowded interior of the bus, and there’s no audio system to announce what the next stop is (this is somewhat true for the Metro as well). Changing this would be a significant improvement in the experience.

    I feel MUCH better. Thank you.

  4. Joan says:

    My husband and I use public transportation in DF whenever we visit and LOVE it! We can not believe how inexpensive it is. Maybe that would be an angle to play up–cost, value.

    Just think, this could be the start of a new sideline for you Julie. First public transportation, then the cartels.

  5. Alvaro says:

    A ticketing system like the Oyster card in London would be a major improvement. Just copying some features of any modern public transportation system (audible signals, time to arrive clocks, unified payment, etc) would be of great help to tourist and public in general.
    For written signals, I haven’t find a more intuitive system than the one available in Prague’s underground subway.

  6. Zannie says:

    I have only sort of “passed through” the DF except for a long layover recently, so I can only comment on the Metro. Overall, I think it works pretty well, but it is quite slow sometimes. Also, while I’ve never felt especially unsafe on the Metro (no more so than in any unfamiliar large city where I haven’t quite gotten into the groove yet) I know that a lot of Americans avoid it because they think they’ll be descended upon by a mob of thieves and possibly kidnappers. (Sigh.)

    To address both of these issues, they could introduce a “Visitor Express” bus (or maybe a handful of such buses) that go from the airport to various popular destinations for people arriving by plane. Popular hotels or hotel districts, the Zocalo, the various bus stations for those just passing through, etc. With just a few stops for each bus there would be less room for confusion, especially if each stop were announced clearly, and hopefully it wouldn’t be so darned slow. (Though I know buses have traffic to contend with, so that would have to be considered.)

    Somewhere in Mexico, I think maybe in Puerto Escondido, we saw “Policia Turistica.” I think the idea was that while tourists may be just as afraid of the Mexican police as they are of the kidnappers (sigh) they would feel more secure with police specifically tasked with protecting tourists. Having a presence of such officers in and around tourist-oriented public transit might help alleviate certain fears.

  7. Zannie says:

    Also, it’s very difficult to find clear information online about how the public transit system in the DF works. If people can’t figure it out ahead of time, they’re likely to plan another way of getting around, because the moment you land in a foreign country, tired and frazzled, is not a good time to be trying to figure out how you’re getting to your hotel, or trying to decipher an unfamiliar transit system.

    An easily Googled website explaining how the transit system works–without necessarily even making any changes to how it works currently–would go a long way to making it accessible to tourists. It should be available in whatever languages are most commonly spoken by tourists to the DF.

    It should explain:
    – how to get a ticket and what to do with it once you’ve gotten it
    – how much it will cost
    – how to find where you will board
    – how to transfer
    – advice about taking luggage with you
    – key phrases in Spanish, such as “Two tickets please”

    It should have transit maps and some information about transit options for getting to various popular locations.

  8. Julie says:

    Thanks everyone!! These are fantastic; keep ’em coming!!!

  9. Cristina says:

    @Zannie: I think the ‘tourist express’ bus you propose is a great idea.

    Mexico City already has tourist police, as do most of the cities in Mexico, including Morelia, Michoacán, the city where I live. The Metrobus, while often jammed to the rafters with riders, has excellent on-board maps of the stops on whatever line you’re riding. Riders with suitcase-size luggage are not permitted on any of the DF’s public transportation options except taxis.

    @Monica: the Metrobus is often completely packed with riders, especially at peak hours. Try to get on Line 2 heading south at 7:00PM! Sheesh!

    Yes, the Metro is very cheap–and is free for those who have the INSEN card. The Metro is not in any way friendly for folks who have any kind of stair-climbing or distance-walking disability, though. The hikes through some andenes can be longer than the subsequent ride to the next stop, and the steep climbs out of the Metro–think of going from the Metro to the Metrobus at Insurgentes, or climbing the stairs to the Cathedral at the Zócalo stop!–can be breathtaking.

    Doing away with the peseros isn’t an option: too many commuters depend on them. The point of the pesero is that it runs from Point A to Point X, and the passenger pays one fee and can get on or off anywhere s/he wants. There are pesero taxis, as well–a shared ride that goes from Point Z to Point C, with folks getting on and off anywhere along the route.

    The Metrobus can’t be everywhere; we’re lucky to have it at all, IMHO. The Metro has been a work in progress for more than 30 years.

    IMHO, most tourists over the age of, say, 40, who are staying in or near the Centro Histórico are not going to opt for the Metro, the Metrobus, or a pesero. Most of those tourists will opt for a taxi. Generally, younger tourists are more willing to be adventurous and take more public forms of public transportation. Most guidebooks and the Guía Roji offer decent maps of the Metro or the Metrobus. I’ve never seen a pesero map.

    I think that Mexico, unlike some other countries I can think of, is less likely to hold the tourist’s hand and say, “Here’s how you get around, here’s how you do XXXX, here’s how you do YYYY.” Mexico is by and large a country where personal responsibility rules.

    Isn’t part of travel the adventure of finding out how things work in unfamiliar places?

  10. Margaret S. says:

    I agree with Cristina that the peseros are essential. They reach like capillaries into small streets and neighbourhoods that large buses are simply too big to penetrate. Tourists are less likely to need this, but it’s an essential service to those of us who live in such neighbourhoods.

    On other topics… well, just what Cristina said. I endorse everything. And what Zannie said.

  11. Researcher at think tank says:

    Dear All,

    Thank you all for your feedback. We think Mexico City’s mass transit has an impact on tourist behavior, both domestic and foreign, and we reckon there is scope for improvement -which would bring about more tourism and hence jobs and investment in the city. We will meet next week with people from the local ministry of tourism and we want to make sure that they know what tourists think about the local public transit system and how well it serves their needs.

    Although we acknowledge and appreciate the effort done by local government agencies to improve public transit, a lot of work is still needed. Much of it doesn’t require huge investments but rather, as many of you have pointed out, a more user- and foreigner-friendly mass transit. It’s hard to believe that there has been no effort to map out the routes of microbuses (i.e. peseros) in spite of their being the main means of transportation within the city, with 14 million trips per day! Helping people out, on the internet as well as on-site, is key to mitigating the perception of hostility of our mass transit. Right now, the official website of the Ministry of Tourism offers no information on how to get around the city so that’s something we will definitely mention when we meet with them.

    I will check again for comments at the end of the week. If you have additional feedback or thoughts you can pass it on to Julie and she will pass it on to me.

    Best regards.

  12. Gary Denness says:

    A unified payment system would be a big improvement to using the three main mass transit systems.

    Microbuses so need to be replaced! They’re just not made for 6’3″ gringos and Europeans. New buses are coming into service, but quicker please!

    For international visitors, there’s one massive improvement that should be made with some urgency. A decent website hub, detailing Metro, Metro Bus, Microbus AND autobus routes, info prices and ticket purchase. The first two have half decent websites, the latter two suck.

    Lastly…. more pedestrianisation please. And the tram system that was talked about and demo’d in the Zocalo a couple of years ago.

  13. Corinne says:

    Well, actually the public transport here works so much better than I had expected. Especially the metro is so easy to use. Improvement could be made by attaching more plans in the stations. By now I know where to find them, but the tourist who just got here, doesn’t know. And maybe he doesn’t feel like considering his biiig Lonely Planet book just for the metro map… 😉

    Metrobus is also pretty easy to use, but often it’s more crowded than the metro. Some map would be helpful though. I only know the metrobus on Insurgentes, but I would not know where to change to other metrobus lines…

    The most difficult thing for tourists are the camiones… First I was to shy/insecure to use them. And sometimes I still ask the driver, if he’s really heading to the destination written on his window. What makes it so difficult is the fact, that you never know, where you are and if you already reached your destination. :( So usually I ask other passengers if they can tell me, when to get off. As people are friendly this works. But though, if possible, I prefer to travel by metro.

    Btw: Some tourist guides say it should be avoided to travel in the metro by night, especially as a single woman. I’ve done this a few times though and I really felt safe all the time. The only time I felt uncomfortabel was when I travelled at Rush Hour and some guy pressed his body against mine. But I should have used the women’s car then, which is a good thing.

    What could be improved in my opinion is the taxi availability, especially at night. For tourists it’s not easy to see, which taxi on a street is a)libre, b)safe (how can you check number plates, when the cars are driving and you need to wave at one?)
    I’m in Mexico City for a bit more than a month now and I still don’t have an idea, how to do this. Because either mexican friends organised me one or they brought me home with their own car. But not every tourist has mexican friends. And not every tourist wants to travel in a car with 4 or even 5 people on the backseat designed for 3 people (which seems to be quite normal in here)… 😉

    All in all I really like the public transport in the D.F. and can recommend it. Additionally it is very cheap for europeans (not for mexicans!)

  14. Zannie says:

    “Riders with suitcase-size luggage are not permitted on any of the DF’s public transportation options except taxis.”

    Really? No one’s ever mentioned it. I guess I’ve broken the rules every time I’ve been to the DF. If that’s the case, why even bother having a Metro station at the airport?

  15. Jenny says:

    I think the Metrobus on the Insurgentes is wonderful – safe, inexpensive, clean, and well-guarded… and I am the type who would NEVER take public transit in Canada! I have my vehicle here but I get places much faster on the Metrobus – no need to worry about parking, traffic jams, etc….

    However, in saying that, last night I waited for 25 minutes while the crowd kept growing at the Caminero station… everyone was confused because the buses kept driving right by, through the station… I had to take a taxi all the way to La Bombilla (still not expensive) just to make my date on time… thats has been my only bummer experience. And at 11:30pm, I waited for a taxi outside the Caminero station and felt perfectly safe as a female travelling alone at night.

    I do agree that the Metrobus stations need better markings, many of the signs are covered by tree foliage and it is difficult to see what station is coming next if it is crowded. Maybe trim a few trees….

    I like the TV on the metro… great entertainment – however it could be better used for informing travellers what station is coming up…

    The subway metro is a little scarier… dirty, the people selling things on the subway is VERY annoying if you were to take it regularily, but hey, this is a part of Mexican culture that a tourist can laugh at… now I am at the point where if it is not necessary to take I do not go there.

    There should be better pocket maps with all the metro lines on it… I just found one for only the subway and Metrobus in a newspaper the other day so I cut it out. Very handy. Should be in all hotels, airports, tourist booths, etc…

    One idea is on the internet metro sites… have each station described with close landmarks, like what tourist sites or government buildings or embassies are by which station, etc.

    Taxis here are great – never had a problem and I have been flagging them down on the side of the road and getting to my destination without problems. Very inexpensive as well.

    Overall, the transit system in Mexico far exceeds any system I have experienced in Canada. World class for the amount of people they serve here.

  16. Trunki says:

    It’s difficult to find educated people about this subject, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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