Jorge Garviño
Director General
Collective Transport System (SCT)

Metro System the Beating Heart of Mexico City

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 10:01

Before the Mexico City Metro system was opened in 1969, the city was plagued by infrastructural problems due to its lack of transport links for its then 4 million inhabitants. Highways and bus routes faced significant congestion and the Olympics in 1968 highlighted these issues. Today, Mexico City’s population is closer to 21 million and the metro system is an integral part of everyday life.

In its 46 years of operation, STC has completed more than 55 billion rides. About 5 million passengers now use it daily. The system is highly subsidized by the government and at MX$5 (US$0.26) per ride, it is one of the cheapest in the world. “Without the metro, Mexico City would come to a standstill as a city bereft of economic development,” says Jorge Gaviño, Director General of STC. “Independently of the number of passengers we transport daily, the biggest success of our metro system is its contribution to the country’s economic activity.”

STC was a pioneer in Latin American metro systems and through the years the Mexico City metro has intermittently ranked first globally in terms of speed and time. Despite criticism that the system, which is the world’s fourth largest, is saturated, Gaviño argues that this is only a concern during peak hours, just like in many other countries. This is exacerbated by the fact that more than half of all metro users take advantage of the service during peak times and these users are typically centered in the same city areas, with only a few lines transporting the majority of them. “Outside these hours, the system has a significant capacity to cater to demand and our services are extremely efficient and adapted to the user’s needs,” Gaviño maintains.

To further boost its services, STC is evaluating alternatives so that travelers arriving at the new New Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) can access the metro line, meaning that with only one change they will have direct access to the city center. Features such as luggage space and internet access will be available on all trains. STC is also examining alternatives to paper metro cards, evaluating a comprehensive pass that also incorporates payment for taxis, buses and even in shops and restaurants.

The metro system does not cover all parts of the city, lacking northern routes to the Santa Fe and Satelite neighborhoods and the last expansion was in October 2012. Gaviño agrees these areas require more adequate transport links but he cites the high costs of subway construction as a possible factor for delays. “We have recently made adjustments to the Metro Master Plan to include the extension of line B to the new airport, the extension of line 12 to Observatorio and that of line A to Chalco,” Gaviño says. He also believes in pursuing a more aggressive expansion plan to the centers of higher demand to maintain STC’s role as a lever of economic development. Gaviño says the city’s metro system has come to represent such an important transport link for its citizens that no infrastructure proposals can be considered without evaluating the implications for public transport. Car users, he says, should pay a fee, as they only represent 20 percent of the city’s population, with the remaining 80 percent using public transport. Another little-known issue with the metro system, says Gaviño, is the requirement to halve speeds during rainy conditions for safety reasons. The fitted trains, which are made to operate underground, are not designed to deal with the slippery conditions presented by rain. A significant investment will be needed to optimize the cruising speed of the carriages.

STC’s greatest challenge, according to Gaviño, is upkeep. The rolling stock employed by the network has a lifecycle of 46 years and requires comprehensive maintenance. Models with a mileage of over 700,000km need servicing but some trains operate with a mileage of over 1.4 million km without ever having undergone maintenance. Fixed installations have also experienced over 40 years of consecutive service, meaning they require restoration. There is a phenomenon, Gaviño says, called differential settlement, which not only negatively affects user comfort but means that international standards cannot be met. Overdue station maintenance, the attraction of a more affluent user base and provision of services for passengers traveling on the coming Mexico City-Toluca line all constitute high priority issues for Gaviño.