#595 Mexico City’s Transit Turnaround

Mexico City's Ecobici

Mexico City’s Ecobici; photo by Michael C. Rael, via Flickr Creative Commons

When IBM released its 2011 Global Commuter Pain Survey, Mexico City took top spot as the world’s worst city for commuters. In January the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy awarded it the 2013 Sustainable Transport Award. The turnaround proves change is possible.

Plans were already in the works for improving the situation when Mexico received its dubious top prize. Government had committed $2.5 billion US to improve its transportation network. Air pollution had been cut in half since 1992.  That was the year the United Nations named Mexico City the most polluted on the planet.

An April 2010 article in the Washington Post reported some of the reasons:

“It replaced the city’s soot-belching old cars, removed lead from gasoline, embraced natural gas, expanded public transportation, and relocated refineries and factories.”

Gridlock was still a major headache for people trying to make their way around the city. In 2012 the city focused on sustainable transportation. According to the February 19, 2013 E&E News, they built a connecting rapid transit bus line from the center of the city to the airport, added a 9-mile subway line, instituted parking reform that decreased congestion (see a dramatic before and after picture here), expanded Ecobici (the city’s bike sharing program), and gave public spaces a facelift.

CO2 emissions dropped, and public transportation improved, but Mexico City still has a long way to go. Like other major cities, it put vehicles first as population increased and sprawl gobbled up surrounding land. Changing that in a city as large and spread out as Mexico City requires a major cultural shift. For one thing, the federal government will have to stop spending 84 percent of its urban mobility funding on projects intended to make car travel easier.

Still, in spite of critics who see the city’s efforts as too little and too late, Mexico City is making significant investments in projects that are improving the quality of life for its residents. It may be only the first step*, but that is how the proverbial journey of a thousand miles begins.

*”A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” ~ Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 100

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