Fernando Páez
Operations Director
WRI México
View from the Top

Smart Mobility for Better Cities

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 11:07

Q: How have BRT systems evolved in Mexico compared with other countries in Latin America?

A: The BRT concept started in Curitiba, Brazil more than 40 years ago. The project that followed was the Quito trolleybus in 1994 and the Transmilenio system in Bogota in 2000, which prompted the implementation of this technology in many other countries. The idea behind the BRT was to offer a service similar to a subway but with buses. BRT networks only require an exclusive lane on already laid roads, which means considerably less infrastructure than a subway project, as well as lower investments and shorter construction times. Stations are placed at specific points along the bus routes and the system is optimized with the use of electronic pay systems and high capacity vehicles.

The BRT concept has become an easily implemented urban public transportation solution. A new 20km system can be constructed and put into operation in approximately two years. Mexico currently has BRT lines in Mexico City, Leon, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Chihuahua, Ciudad Juarez, Puebla, Pachuca and the State of Mexico. In Latin America, BRT systems operate in Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Guatemala, among other countries.

Q: What new challenges must Metrobús face to fulfill the need for better transportation?

A: Although they have spurred change and have had a positive impact at an urban level, many BRT systems face challenges that are mostly related to financial and operational elements. In the case of Metrobús, Mexico City’s BRT system, the biggest challenge is to better manage the high demand the system currently faces. One of the biggest complaints that passengers have, especially during rush hour, is the severe crowding of buses and stations. In addition to the difficulty of getting on and off the buses coupled with an uncomfortable trip, there have been cases of pickpocketing and other crimes.

To solve this, the number of buses needs to be increased, as well as the frequency of the service, while taking the station and road infrastructure capacity into account. The Metrobús system has distinguished itself as an excellent solution to shorten travel times and reduce traffic accidents on roads where it has been implemented. Yet, there is still room for improvement. The challenge is finding sources of financing to support Metrobús’ growth, considering that its financial security cannot be dependent on the fares it charges users.

In general, public transportation in Mexico City can be improved by focusing on the different services offered and making multimodality and connectivity a priority. The city must offer multiple transportation options for people to arrive at their destination. At the same time, the government must make sure the infrastructure, payment methods and service schedule is in place to facilitate this integration.

Q: How can transport be improved without reliance on political planning?

A: There are three essential elements that can improve transportation other than public policy approaches. The first is to consider the user as an essential factor in mobility solutions. The second is to create budgets that can ensure regulations are enforced and to make planning instruments become realities. The third is to engage institutions that have the technical capacity to manage imminent change.

Q: How can users become true participants in the development of mobility solutions?

A: User participation in improving transportation should be rooted in public appropriation of transportation culture. People must know their rights and meet their obligations as mobility users through training and communication. Another aspect that can encourage user participation is the availability of information on transportation indicators that allow more public involvement when proposing new solutions.

Q: How does public transport in Mexico City compare with other cities in the world?

A: Each city has its own way of operating public transportation, depending on how this essential public service has been structured historically. Today, Mexico City has a varied public transportation offering including 12 metro lines, one tram line, one suburban train line, eight trolleybus lines, six Metrobús lines, seven routes on the M1 passenger transportation network, 105 other transportation routes controlled by microbus operators and the public bicycle system, ECOBICI.

Comparing this offering with other cities, it is clear that such services are offered by cities like London and New York. The big difference is the way they are planned, managed and controlled, considering that in more developed regions management of the urban transport system is integrated. Madrid and Seoul are also excellent examples of how transport systems can function in an integrated mobility scheme. These cities have the infrastructure, technology and institutions necessary for integration. They have also oriented investments to ensure passengers have a pleasant travel experience, fostering the use of public transportation while discouraging private vehicle use.

Q: How do you see public transportation changing in Mexico and what new projects are in development in the country?

A: The most important change happening in Mexico is the paradigm shift toward an integrated mobility system. The government is working to ensure the population’s right to transportation and, in the mobility hierarchy, to give priority to pedestrians, followed by cyclists and users of public transport, while leaving cargo transport and private vehicles at the bottom of the pyramid. This change is reflected in the publication of new mobility laws in different states of the country and in the development of integrated mobility plans that reaffirm this new paradigm shift. In terms of projects, Mexico has worked to transform its public transportation system for the past 15 years. The Mass Transit Federal Assistance Program (PROTRAM) has launched several urban transport projects in the seven years since it began operations and currently, nine of these initiatives have come to fruition and are already in operation in Mexico City. Other states are also planning and implementing new projects.

WRI Mexico (formerly CTS EMBARQ Mexico) has been a dynamic force in the process of transforming public transportation in the country. Regarding the inclusion of nonmotorized transport, it is worth mentioning that new public bicycle systems have been put in operation in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puebla and Pachuca, and at the moment there are seven more systems in development or under construction. There are also projects for pedestrianization and recovery of public spaces in 12 states of Mexico. An important step has also been taken to integrate new kinds of mobility services, as is the case of shared platforms such as Uber and Cabify, which give users another option so they can make the best decision on how to get to where they need to be.