Photo essay: Dealing with urban growth in Mexico City

Beating congestion but dealing with danger

For an emerging city, Mexico City’s formal transport system is reasonably extensive, accessible, and affordable. Alas, the biggest problem when taking public transport in Mexico City is the danger posed on board: theft is considered normal when taking public transport. This can range from pickpocketing, typical on the metro, to robberies on buses, as well as sexual harassment and physical violence. As a result, travellers often ride with the exact amount of cash they need for tickets, use a second phone, and have developed creative ways of hiding valuables during a robbery. In addition, route planning happens at home, because a) checking phones during travel is not safe b) few people have enough mobile data to do so and c) the WiFi doesn’t work on the metro and signal drops out from time to time.

A road in Mexico City
A road in Mexico City
Metrobus in Mexico City
A metrobus travels through Mexico City
Pedestrians cross the street as a Metrobus waits for passengers to board
Interior of a bus and fare payment

A flagship metro system

Mexico City’s metro is the largest in Latin America, with up to six million daily users. It’s 226 km long, with 195 stations and 12 lines, and at just 3 pesos per journey ($0.23 USD or EUR 0.18), it’s the cheapest metro system in the world. The city has worked to meet growing demand — the first phase was completed in 1969, and the most recent phase was in 2014. Accessibility was considered from day one — back when the metro opened, a third of the country were unable to read or write, and the city helped guide passengers with a system based on colours and visuals.

Passengers wait to board a train
Train leaves a station in Mexico City
Passengers wait to board a train in Mexico City

Informal options

An alternative to the formal options, colectivos, also known as peseros, are flexible minibus shuttles operating in Mexico City and are relied upon by a great number of people. Their network is over ten times the size of the formal system, with over 102,000 vehicles in operation. Cash only, tickets cost 30–50 pesos per trip, and they stop sporadically along the way. As with other transport modes in the city, theft is not uncommon.

Old microbus in Mexico City

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Stories about data, mobility, and the Majority World.