STORY INLINE POST
Mobility is a key dynamic of urbanization and thus economic growth. The associated infrastructure invariably shapes the urban form and the access to development opportunities. More public transport hubs and stations mean more customers for surrounding businesses, value gains for nearby properties, and better access to jobs, goods, and services for citizens. However, most urban centers have been planned for motor vehicles instead of people, resulting in traffic jams, rising transport-related CO2 emissions, less productivity, and a deepening of socio-economic spatial inequality.
Mobility in Mexico City and its metropolitan area has been characterized by its fragmentation and reduced efficiency. The high economic, social, and environmental costs derived from this situation result in a lower quality of life for the population. In particular, the commuting time and percentage of household income spent on transportation imply higher opportunity costs as people live further away from the city economic centers. Also, the historic lack of infrastructure maintenance and insufficient means of public transport have aggravated the situation. As such, the government of Mexico City recognizes mobility as a necessity and a fundamental right that allows people to access a wide variety of employment, well-being, and recreational opportunities.
Now, Mexico City is expanding and modernizing its public transport network at an unprecedented rate and scale. Between 2019 and 2022, Mexico City Chief of Government Claudia Sheinbaum allocated a US$5.5 billion budget for transport infrastructure projects and maintenance. That is only 10 percent less than the entire mobility budget of the previous six-year administration (2013-2018), considering the budget contractions of 2020 and 2021 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding that disruption, investment in mass transit has been higher than in any of the pre-pandemic years. In fact, thanks to the substantial economic recovery of the city, the 2022 fiscal year saw the largest mobility budget increase on record, with 31 percent more public resources allocated than the previous year.
Source: Planned budget allocation by expenditure function for transportation on the Mexico City Expenditure Budget Decree Projects of each fiscal year.
Henceforth, transportation of people is considered a strategic sector, as outlined in the Mexico City Integrated Mobility Strategy across its five main objectives:
Integrate all transportation systems
Serve those users who need it the most
Reduce commuting time
Strengthen non polluting public transit
Encourage bike use
According to the 2017 Origin-Destination Survey in Households of the Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Mexico, elaborated by INEGI, 19 million trips are made every day in Mexico City. The most common way of traveling is by public transport, since 70 percent of journeys use a bus, subway, BRT, trolleybus, suburban train, or tram at least once. Next are pedestrian trips with 23.2 percent of the total, while trips involving a private car add up to 22 percent. Percentages do not add up because the trips measured by the survey are the sum of the sections comprising different modes of transport.
Since December 2018, Mexico City’s public investment in mobility infrastructure has been moving away from a car-centered perspective toward a sustainable and inclusive mass transit electromobility model. For example, by the end of Sheinbaum’s administration, Mexico City will have three new cable car lines, two subway lines and one tram line completely renovated, an entire new fleet of electric and low-carbon-emissions buses, the first elevated trolleybus line in the world, the largest shared-bike system in Latin America in terms of bikes and stations, and two interurban passenger train lines connecting the capital city with Toluca International Airport and the new Felipe Angeles International Airport.
The cable car is the newest mass transit system added to the public transport network of Mexico City. It is inclusive, as it is designed to service low-income neighborhoods on the periphery. Currently, the city has two lines operating: Line 1 is in the Gustavo A. Madero borough, with an extension of 9.2km and 33 minutes of travel time from end to end. It opened to the public in July 2021. After a year of operation, the Ministry of Economic Development estimates that Line 1 has had an economic spillover of US$51.3 million for the 5,546 economic units and its 59,430 workers surrounding its six stations. Line 2 is 10.6km and located in the Iztapalapa borough. It reduces time travel from 75 minutes to only 36 minutes and opened in August 2021. It is now the longest urban mass transit cable car line in the world, according to Guinness World Records. Line 3 is under construction with an estimated opening date in September 2023. It will run next to Chapultepec Park, connecting different sections of Mexico City’s largest urban park with the subway and interurban train stations. Combined, the cable car system represents a reduction of up to 16,600 tons of CO2 per year, a public investment of US$447 million, nearly 5,000 new jobs, 19 new stations, 210,000 passengers every day, and a €10 million investment in the Vallejo industrial area for a training and maintenance facility from the cable car company Doppelmayr.
One of the latest and more ambitious electromobility projects in Mexico City is the modernization of the first subway line built in 1967. Line 1 of the Collective Transportation System (STC) has 18.8km, 20 stations and runs east-west across downtown Mexico City. Before the pandemic, it was the most saturated subway line of 12, with an influx of more than 240 million people each year. However, it has exceeded the lifespan projection of its technology and infrastructure. With 53 years of service, the STC technicians and engineers have kept it running despite the lack of spare parts, which are no longer manufactured. To avoid accidents due to malfunction, reduce commuting time, and increase energy efficiency, Line 1 requires a major upgrade. The government of Mexico City is investing US$1.9 billion to modernize Line 1 and give it another 50-year lifespan. This includes a complete renewal of tracks and its electronic systems, expansion of the train workshops, new telecommunication systems and video surveillance, 29 new trains with 35 percent more passenger capacity, and a new power station. Moreover, to operate safely and efficiently, the obsolete command center will also be replaced by a state-of-the-art train control system. These improvements will allow the service to increase train frequency, reducing end-to-end travel time from 55 minutes to less than 30 minutes.
Additionally, Mexico City is investing US$77 million for the rehabilitation and reinforcement of subway Line 12, conducting structural engineering studies, and upgrading infrastructure materials. Once the restoration work is finished this year, Line 12 will be like new. Likewise, Mexico City’s only tram line has undergone a major infrastructure upgrade, consisting of replacing and adjusting carrier cables, contact wires, suspension and tilting systems, as well as six new zero-emission trains. The US$31 million investment will increase the fleet by 60 percent and reduce commuting time from Xochimilco to Tasqueña from 63 minutes to less than 30 minutes. It will also increase the capacity of the service from 75,000 to 110,000 users per day.
Another major electromobility infrastructure project is the Mexico-Toluca interurban passenger train. Despite not being finished by the previous administration, thanks to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Claudia Sheinbaum, this project is not only getting the resources necessary to finish construction but it is also getting a new train station on Vasco de Quiroga Avenue to service low-income neighborhoods. This fast and comfortable means of transportation will have a total length of 57.7km, seven stations — two terminals and five intermediate ones — and 30 new electric trains. It will serve 234,000 passengers a day with a 39-minute ride end-to-end. Also, the interurban train to Felipe Angeles International Airport is under construction and will represent a main international gateway to Mexico City when it is completed in fall 2023.
Finally, on Sept. 11,2022, the Mexico City chief of government attended the first operational trials of the elevated trolleybus line. This is a US$168 million investment in a 7.8km elevated highway, with 11 stations in the Iztapalapa borough where 26 electric trolleybuses will transport 76,000 people each day, reducing commuting time by 66 percent to only 20 minutes. Set to ope in october, the elevated trolleybus line is the first of its kind in the world. This system is complemented with a US$39 million investment to acquire 100 trolleybuses. Each unit is zero emissions, universally accessible, equipped with security cameras, autonomy of 75km to operate without being connected, and a capacity for 85 passengers. These trolleybuses are being assigned to the elevated line, but also to Lines 4, 5, 6 and 8 of the trolleybus system, which was about to be discontinued by the previous administration.
There is no doubt that Mexico City is at the forefront of electromobility. It is both expanding and modernizing its public transport network, focusing on inclusion and sustainability. The electromobility sector in Mexico City represents substantial economic benefits in terms of investment, jobs, businesses creation, and time savings that lead to productivity improvements, while integrating major urban centers and international airports, and granting access to more goods and services to the population living in the periphery. There are two years left to maintain this momentum, and there is potential to implement this model of economic development across the rest of the country.