Every weekday morning between 4 and 7 a.m. the working men and women of Greater Mexico City line up for the vans, subways, and buses that will take them on their long ride into the city.
The megaregion of 21.2 million boasts some of the world’s worst traffic. With average rush hour speeds averaging between 5 and 7 miles per hour according to UN Habitat, getting to work is a job in itself. The report goes on to note that the city’s four central districts with 19 percent of the population generate 53 percent of the jobs. Typically, workers from the State of Mexico surrounding Mexico City will catch a bus that connects them to one of the subway system’s 12 lines. For the unluckiest commuters, yet another bus ride awaits them after a subway jaunt.
As millions of people converge onto the city center in the morning rush hour, congestion stretches infrastructure to capacity and the butterfly effect takes hold on the subway system: A bag gets stuck between closing doors in La Raza station on the Green Line. An hour later, hundreds struggle to squeeze into an already packed train at Insurgentes station on the Pink Line. Meanwhile, traffic across the city is bumper-to-bumper.
City authorities have built Bus Rapid Transit and recently passed a law that promotes construction of new social housing in central parts of the city. But rush hour congestion has yet to improve. An estimated 200,000 new cars are being added to the city’s streets every year, according to a report by the consumer organization Poder del Consumidor.
The single most useful investment which the city could make towards alleviating its traffic problem? Spare subway parts, suggests Amado Taboada, the director of Line A of the Mexico City Metro System. He estimates that currently about 10 percent of the trains are waiting for parts, due to budgeting issues.
The fundamental dynamic underlying Mexico City commutes is simple, explains Trinidad Moreno, a dispatcher for the Line 36 microbus line in urban outpost Cuatro Vientos. Salaries for low-wage jobs around Cuatro Vientos average about 50 percent of salaries for equivalent jobs in the city’s central areas. On the other hand, rents in this social housing unit in the shadow of the famous Iztaccihuatl volcano can be down to 20 percent of central city rents.
There are, however, two catches. The trip back and forth in public transport typically takes up between four and six hours a day and eats up more than a third of a typical salary.
The 25-mile ride from Cuatro Vientos, located on the far southeast rim of the megalopolis, to the city center starts smoothly. But things get worse with each stop, most notably as it pulls into Pantitlan—Metro’s busiest station—where four metro lines converge in the poorer eastern side of the megacity. Time passes slowly along the way to the central district, leading riders to occasionally nod off while standing.
Tomorrow won’t be any different.