Public Transportation: Think Micro not MacroBy Adrián Fernandez de Mendoza | Thu, 04/07/2022 - 11:00
Guadalupe wakes up every day at 5 a.m. While still sleepy, she fixes breakfast for her husband and three kids, sends them away to work and school and starts her two-hour, 47km journey to her workplace. She lives in Chalco (a city of half a million people in neighboring State of Mexico) and works as an accountant in Santa Fe. Lupita, as her family and friends call her, takes a combi, then the subway and finally a bus to get to work on time by 8 and start her paid job. Total monetary cost: MX$65 (US$3.20), both ways. Total emotional and physical cost: Gigantic.
In Mexico City, we know our tacos, our tequila … and our traffic. According to TomTom, our city is among the Top 10 most-congested cities worldwide and only second to Lima on the continent. It also calculates that chilangos lose an additional 87 hours per year due to traffic saturation. Just in the metropolitan area of Mexico City, the total estimated number of cars roaming through the streets tops 10 million.
But Lupita’s household has only one car (neither recent nor in mint condition) and she has to rely on public transportation for her daily, excruciating commute. It is an “urban triathlon” (she has to mix different transportation systems) that is not integrated, transacts predominantly in cash, has no clear schedule and does not offer any sophistication on payments and access.
But Lupita is just one case of the millions of people that commute every day. According to INEGI, in December 2021, the Mexican subway (or Metro) served a staggering 82.4 million individual trips, or an equivalent of 32.4 trips per second, similar to the speed of the wings of a hummingbird. Metrobus, the Metro’s younger and more advanced brother, has grown rapidly. With seven routes across the city, it serves over 1 million trips per day.
These massive numbers combined with lower technological sophistication translates to inefficiencies for both users and transportation providers. If Lupita has not topped up her access card or has to line up to buy paper tickets during rush hour, she will lose another 10-15 minutes on either line.
But Lupita is not the only one affected: cash management, lack of controls and safety issues are big pains for transportation companies, which desperately try to migrate their users to digital money and need to find resources to make the proper investments to catch up with their global counterparts. Transportation companies have to spend more money because of their money (pun intended): armored trucks, conciliations, guards and the whole nine yards.
And the MX$65 that Lupita spends every day is no minor thing. Also according to INEGI, transportation and communication expenses are second in terms of family spending, just behind food and ahead of living expenses. Plus, don’t forget about the health crisis that we went through for the last two years: Money is dirty in general (despite being well earned) and hand-to-hand transactions create a bigger risk for Lupita and her family.
While Lupita arrives at her office at 8:02, running skillfully in heels while finishing her makeup and her not-so-healthy breakfast, the reflection arises: can we make life better for Lupita and the millions of commuters of public transportation while also transferring benefits to the transportation providers?
Short answer: yes. But unless we are able to relocate half of the population to different cities throughout the country, make working-from-home a rule or something at that scale, we need to look for micro-improvements to reduce commute times and increase security and hygiene. Digital money, payments and access.
Money is starting to become more and more digital as smartphone adoption increases and connectivity is widely adopted. We now have our entertainment, social life and even our bank service on our smartphones. How can we leverage these two trends for the benefit of all Lupitas out there?
Banks and financial entities chase the goal to give their customers the capability to control their expenses, reduce the amount of cash they manage and improve their safety and health. We should be able in the future to just put our phone near the access control and have a greenlight to continue our journey. Or why not just wave or smile at a camera and have a direct charge to your bank account without even reaching for your phone. But as I said it, micro-improvements should be the key to tackle the bigger problem and leave behind, once and for all, paper tickets and the need to line up.
Maybe we can’t magically transport Lupita (yet) to her workplace with a snap of our fingers, but we can strive to save her time and make her commute more efficient, one payment at a time. The sky (or better, the road) is the limit.