Laura Ballesteros
Deputy Minister of Planning and Energy Transition
Ministry of Mobility (SEMOVI)

Facilitating the Pedestrian Revolution

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:19

In Mexico City, the car was always king, so much so that it is easy to forget that the average person in the metropolis does not even own a vehicle. For Laura Ballesteros, Deputy Minister for Planning at SEMOVI, this represents a massive opportunity for carpooling to take the pressure off the capital’s creaky infrastructure. “People tend to forget that the average person –- around 60 percent of the population of Mexico City –- does not own a car,” she says. “This demographic travels four times a day using various mobility systems, yet cars are only shared among family, friends or through the use of an application. That results in an average occupation of 1.2 people per vehicle in Mexico City.”

According to Ballesteros, there are currently 5.5 million vehicles in Mexico City alone and 80 percent of its roads are dedicated to vehicle use. “The problem we need to solve is how to successfully partition all the available mobility systems,” she says. “The city’s government has worked on a strategy for two years and our goal is to designate 70 percent of our budget to public transportation projects but to be successful we need the support of the federal government.” In 2014, Mexico City underwent a mobility overhaul after the implementation of the new Mobility Law and the many programs related to road safety. The government’s goal was to make private vehicles only one of many options for transportation, fostering the implementation of carpooling when possible. To do that, it needed to invest in sustainable mobility with safe, connected and quality public transportation. This included more space for mobility options like Metrobús and Ecobici and enough space to promote the use of private bicycles and sustainable buses to replace the current microbus fleet.

The city’s urban planning is also a thorn in the side of regulators. Due to the government’s previous policy of building the city outward, much of the population has a long commute to work. Business centers are focused in certain districts like Polanco, Reforma, Santa Fe and the city center, meaning at rush hour, the city gets saturated at certain locations. To date, says Ballesteros, almost 45 percent of the transit in Mexico City is generated downtown, making circulation almost impossible, particularly at rush hour.

Ballesteros believes parking lots are one of the top culprits in encouraging private car use. “We tried to balance the use of private and public transportation in Mexico City by publishing new parking standards in July 2017,” she says. One of these standards eliminated the obligation for parking space delimitation in new developments in an effort to better organize the city’s parking layout since many international studies show that an excess of parking lots can lead to additional traffic. “A reduction in parking lot infrastructure could help us invest in sustainable public transportation like Metro and Metrobús,” explains Ballesteros. “These standards are the most important the city has published in recent years and together with Guadalajara we are leading this transformation in Latin America.”

Even with modern vehicles, she is skeptical that the pollution that plagues the capital can be curtailed without proper emissions management. “Hybrid and electric cars are necessary to improve the air quality,” she says. “The city is preparing an electromobility plan to promote the use of these vehicles in the short and long term and taxis are the first focus.” Old taxis are gradually being renovated and regulations are making it easier for drivers to choose hybrid models.

SEMOVI is also lobbying to offer benefits to hybrid and electric-vehicle owners, which should go hand in hand with the development of car sales and charging infrastructure. The government of Mexico City has an agreement with tollroad operators to offer discounts to green vehicles and one of its commitments is the construction of infrastructure for electric buses. The 22km Green Corridor in Eje 8 Sur will be the first of its kind in Latin America. The governmental body also wants to make Mexico City’s roads safer for the millions of pedestrians that use them each day. Almost 60 percent of the people who die in a traffic accident are pedestrians and cyclists, while the other 40 percent are people driving a vehicle. “All mobility options must offer the same safety conditions, even when some are more vulnerable than others, which is the main reason why the city’s streets have evolved,” says Ballesteros.