Ecobici

Mexico City’s government has introduced a brand new eco friendly transport solution – the EcoBici. I hadn’t seen any of these bicycle stations till yesterday, but having seen one, I soon stumbled across another. And another. There are 47 stations in all. The system is a simple one. Buy a card and use it to release bikes from their moorings. Return bike to a station.

It sounds good, but I have a couple of reservations. For one, it’s not terribly cheap. Not expensive, but not cheap. And a lot of people in this city are excluded if something isn’t cheap. In fact a lot of people are excluded if it isn’t free. Secondly, the sort of people who do have the money are perhaps the sort of people who would turn their nose up at the idea – snobbery is alive and well in DF. If the authorities can’t convince a fairly sizable chunk of the population that the metro isn’t just for ‘poor people’…. but then I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I may yet get myself a card and use it.

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  • As Daniel mentions, the 300 pesos is the fee to get into the system. Once you are part of the system you can use the bikes for 30 minutes or less without an additional charge. The maximum time you can have the bike is 2 hours. If you exceed the 2 hours limited three times you are banned from the system (I do not know if the fee is refunded). You can return the bike after 1:59 hours and check out another one after 10 minutes.
    If the bike is not returned in 24 hours your credit card is charged 5,000 pesos (and I assume you are kicked out of the system).

    I see several problems with this program (apologies for the rant):

    My main concern, the cost to the taxpayers: While the system is operated by a private company (Clear Channel Outdoor) the financing comes from the public coffers to the tune of 75 million pesos. For Mexico this is not a meager sum. Clear Channel also received authorization for 150 billboards across the city.
    According to this note, there is an assumption of 3 million pesos lost to theft and vandalism per year. If the actual losses exceed this projection the government of the Federal District will pay the difference (Apparently CC is not taking any financial risk).
    After 6 weeks approximately 2,400 people have signed up for the service, ~1,600 per month. The Federal District’s government’s target is 24,000 users. A back of the envelope calculation makes me think that they are aiming to recover their investment in 10 years (24,000 x 300 x 10 = 72 million pesos). They may or may not reach their goal, I hope they do. The system may or may not be working in 10 years, but I can not remember a single program in Mexico that lasted that long. Once the politicians have taken their cut there is little incentive to maintain it in working order.
    My second issue, misguided priorities: This is the same government that is not capable of keeping the street lights working or the trash off the streets. When I’m with my daughter in their beloved Parque Mexico and she needs to use the bathroom we have to pay (exact change only!) and a drinking fountain is nowhere to be found in the whole city.
    The cost for the user: The minimum salary in mexico is 57.5 pesos per day. A quick search reveals that in New York it is U$7.25 per hour. If you compare a la UBS Big Mac Index the 5 days of minimum wage it takes to pay the ecobici fee would be equivalent to 290 US Dollars. This obviously is not an exact equivalency but it gives you an idea of what 300 pesos means to a person earning minimum wage.
    The need for a credit or debit card: not everybody has them obviously. I suspect that among people riding the metro and wanting to use the bikes for the “last kilometer” (the alleged target audience) the proportion of cardholders is lower.
    This requirement also means that the system is of no use to tourist.
    Since I am not a bike rider I can not comment on how safe riding a bike in these areas is, but I have read many comment indicating that it is border line suicidal (on the launch day a D.F. government official had an accident trying to avoid a car!). There are no bike lanes so some riders take to the sidewalks. As a pedestrian I can tell you this is annoying and potentially dangerous. This has been characterized by the government as “details” that will be worked out eventually. Martha Delgado, environment secretary stated, on the record, that “usage comes first, then the infrastructure” I disagree, they should have taken care of this before unleashing these 1,000 bikes on us.
    Finally: The system is completely automated but it operates from 6:00 AM until 00:30 even tough many of them are in a neighborhood known for its nightlife. What gives?

    I realize that this sound pessimistic and cynical, but the politicians are the ones making cynical use of it for their personal gains.
    I am completely in favor of changing the way we live to be more eco-friendly, but the concepts should be sustainability and cost/benefit. If money is not an issue, why not give away priuses to everybody?, or subsidize them at least for use as taxis.
    Instead they have chosen to drop this program in these gentrified neighborhoods where they are needed the least.

    jg

  • The website of Ecobici

    https://www.ecobici.df.gob.mx/home/home.php

    Abono anual

    Tarifa costo anual. Con 30 minutos incluidos por evento $300
    Del minuto 31 al minuto 60. $10
    Del minuto 61 en adelante por cada hora o fracción. $35
    Reposición tarjeta ECOBICI por robo o extravío. $50
    Por bicicleta no devuelta en 24 horas continuas. $5,000

    Also please check the “perimetro” to see where the area covered by Ecobici.

  • Gary, I think the $300 initial fee is a one-off payment that allows for unlimited use for 1 year. The only restriction is that rides must be kept at less than 30 minutes each. You can ride all day but every 30 minutes you have to check in at one of the stations to renew your time allowance.

    For someone who will be substituting car or public transportation with these bicycles to commute to work, it’s dirt cheap. In any case, I think the target users of this system are yuppies who drive their car to work today, and who live in prosperous colonias in delegaciones such as Benito Juarez, Cuauhtemoc and Miguel Hidalgo.

    I agree that there is no culture of civility toward cyclists (or to anyone for that matter) in el DF. But it is also true that such norms and habits are created, I don’t see why chilangos cannot learn to respect cyclists through carrot-and-stick policies .

    • It is indeed – the $300 bit. As for civility towards cyclists, the law does dictate that cyclists have priority, even if like all other road laws, it is generally ignored. But I did read recently that the police were having a crackdown on anti-cyclist styles of driving.

    • You have to get a card to use the bikes which is, I assume, registered to a credit card. Element of trust is then removed, and threat of massive chunks of cash taken from your account put in its place!

  • I was going to comment on similar programs in place in other countries, but I can see the ecobici youtube clip does mention it. Except that it doesn’t mention how most of those countries have people who can financially afford to ride one of these “bici’s” and that…at least where I’m at (NY as you know) bicycling is considered chic (especially if for “eco” reasons) and something the morally elite of the in-crowd are proud to do. Personally, I’d Love to ride a bike in Brooklyn/NY in general, but I’m still terrified of getting run over…or running over someone else! I’m not sure of how other people do it, but this isn’t the most bicycle friendly city…and el DF certainly isn’t either (not for careful souls like myself anyway). I like the idea though and in true Mexican spirit….I know it will fail.

    “Asi es la vida….ya que”

    • Mexico City has, to be fair, made huge advances in making the city a bit more bike friendly in the last couple of years. Miles and miles of ciclopistas for a start, and then there is the Sunday Ciclothon. But yeah….still a long way to go to convince Mr and Miss Average that they can pedal in safety!

  • Actually the essential element to this post, which I intended but for some reason forgot, was to include a link to the official website, with it’s info on tarifs, routes etc all there in one place to see!

    https://www.ecobici.df.gob.mx/

    But, as I understand it, a card which lasts one year and gives you the first 30 minutes free is $300. About 30 minutes and charges add up. I’m sure some journeys could be made more quickly and, crucially, more cheaply by taxi.

    But I really am thinking of getting myself a card anyway when I have 300 pesos spare.

  • I agree with Kim G. I’m not one to bash Mexico City, but if there’s one ugly stereotype that’s true it’s that the traffic and the driving habits are appalling. I wouldn’t get on a bike in this city for anything. Can’t think this will be too successful, except with daredevil types like you, Gary!

    • I wouldn’t call myself a daredevil per se…I just keep my wits about me! I ride my bike all over the city and have never had a problem. Oh, except once, when I was riding down a dark street full of pot holes with only one hand on the handlebars….

  • Well, from the video, it seems like the perfect system for getting from the Torre Mayor to Condesa and perhaps back. Especially well suited to cycling around in front of the Torre Mayor.

    But I’m not sure it’s cut out for Iztapalapa.

    Seems like it was thought up by someone completely out of touch with the realities of DF. Just getting cars to stop at red lights is still an emerging science there.

    That said, I hope it’s a fabulous success. DF could be ideal for bicycling, what with it being mostly flat and having generally fabulous weather.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’ve wanted to bicycle around town. Unfortunately we wanted even more not to be flattened by aggressive motorists, and so opted for a motorcycle instead.

    • The bici stations are all around the Centro Historico….Iztapalapa is strictly off limits for these little machines!

      As for stopping at red lights being an emerging science…all laws are obeyed on a voluntary basis, as you know well I’m sure! You must do the Ciclothon one Sunday though. Those bikes are free. Great fun.

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