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Mexico City at a Glance

Transportation in Mexico City

Mexico City can seem somewhat of an intimidating place to expats who have never experienced a bustling city of its size – the capital of Mexico is one of the largest cities worldwide. You can find out more about life in Mexico City, including info on its language and culture, below.


As you can surely imagine just based on the city’s unfathomable population size alone, getting around town is not always a comfortable or swift affair in Mexico City. In fact, commutes in D.F. have been named the worst in the entire world in a survey conducted by IBM. The sheer number of cars on the streets has all but paralyzed the traffic in D.F.; a recent study even suggested that the near-constant gridlock costs the local and national economy flabbergasting amounts of more than 2 billion USD annually. An estimated average speed of 17 km/h will probably make many an expat think twice about taking their car to work.

The city administration of Mexico D.F. puts a lot of effort into attempting to provide efficient and modern infrastructure for its 21 million residents – however, even with designated bus lanes, second levels on inner-city speedways, a very extensive subway network, and measures such as Hoy No Circula, there is still much work to be done. There is some good news as well, though: The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) awarded Mexico City with the 2013 Sustainable Transport Award for positive developments in sustainable transportation and urban livability, mostly driven by the local Metrobus bus system (see below) and other projects such as the bike-sharing service Ecobici.

Hoy No Circula

As the Distrito Federal is located in highland plateau almost completely enclosed by mountains and volcanoes, some of which exceed altitudes of 5000m, the circulation of air – or rather the lack thereof - is highly problematic. The city suffers some of the worst smog levels worldwide, as the heavy fumes and emissions become trapped within the mountain belt. This problem is further exacerbated in winter, when thermal inversion bars the pollution from rising.

Air pollution has long been one of the most pressing issues for Mexico City and its inhabitants, with tens of thousands of deaths per year being directly or indirectly attributed to the poor quality of the air. As a means to combat the worsening conditions, the city administration came up with a rather simple, but effective solution which has also proven very beneficial for the city’s air quality – Hoy No Circula (“today it does not circulate”). The program, which is in effect from Monday to Saturday, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., prohibits the use of vehicles according to the last digit of their license plate.

The Hoy No Circula program is coupled with a bi-annual emissions testing program, in the course of which vehicles are classified in four groups. Two of these groups, 00 and 0, are exempt from the Hoy No Circula program. Generally speaking, only cars which are up to 9 years old and meet strict environmental requirements are awarded one of these two much desired stickers. Classes 1 and 2 must adhere to the restrictions of the program in full.

The effects of the program are very evident to long-time residents: today, the air quality is a far cry from the dismal state it was in during the first half of the 1990s, for example.

Public Transportation

Mexico City has an extensive network of public transportation options, the fares of all of which are amongst the cheapest in the world. Residents have the choice between a metro network consisting of 12 lines servicing every corner of the city, bus and trolleybus services, as well as a modern Bus Rapid Transfer system dubbed Metrobus, which has recently been augmented by a fourth line. The Metrobus has the distinction of operating on designated bus lines, allowing for swift transport. For route planners and additional service information, please see the pages of the respective operators: Sistema de Transporte Colectivo for the metro, Servicio de Transportes Electricos del D.F. for bus and trolleybus, and Metrobus.

There is still another mass transit option which caters for the lion’s share of commuters and other passengers: the peseros, Mexico City’s collective cabs or minibuses. Peseros are easily the cheapest and most popular way of getting around town, especially in those parts that are not serviced by any other public transportation systems. The typically green and grey microbuses operate on fixed lines, picking up and letting out passengers anywhere along the way. While this is surely convenient, it still is a major annoyance in everyday traffic. As peseros are also somewhat accident-prone due to self-trained drivers and buses in need of an overhaul, expats are often advised against using them. However, they are part of daily life in D.F., so everyone should have experienced a ride in a pesero at least once.

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