The Eternal Rush Hour

Traffic is the bane of almost every citizen’s life in Mexico City. The roads are a heaving mass of cars and trucks, often at a standstill. The video gives a brief snapshot of the story. In fact perhaps you ought to watch that first then return to my little commentary. I can identify a few problems that aren’t mentioned in the video.

Firstly, home ownership. Perhaps not the most obvious cause of traffic, but I’d wager it contributes. Home ownership is popular in Mexico, and it has its pros and cons. Amongst the cons are an increase in property prices, and the inability of young people to get onto the property ladder. Or at least a disincentive to do so.

This produces a mobility impaired workforce, who end up making very lengthy journeys to work, adding to the congestion. It has to be said that Mexicans unwillingness to move far from their families also contributes to this. In some European cities where rental is more common and rules applying to rentals less restrictive, you do tend to find a more mobile workforce, lower property prices, less commuting by total distances and less congestion.

Secondly, and where my normally liberal sensibilities go out of the window and I turn into a rabid right winger, is the issue of obeyance of the rules of the road. People will just park in the middle of the road because it is convenient to them, and sod everyone else. Whether to chat to someone they know, or disgorge their passengers of to pop to a shop. The city does actually have some fairly strict road laws and punishments, but they are enforced a little patchily. To say the least.

No license? No insurance? Take away their cars and lock ’em up! Even if only for a day or two. Parked illegally? Take away their cars. No exceptions. Police corruption? Send out a brigade of well trained, well vetted and well paid anti-corruption officers onto the streets on the city in illegal old bangers parked improperly. Any police officer taking a bribe can spend a little time in prison before seeking a new career. And bring on the ANPR cameras! Driving is a privilege not a right.

How would one pay for all of this? Oh, easy. Legalise drugs. The money saved in the war against the stuff and the tax revenue earned through the new products will help no end. Oh, and fine microbus drivers who stop wherever and whenever they want to pick up and drop off passengers, which slows down traffic considerably. It’s not unusual to see a bus stopping every ten metres down some stretches of road. Of course, the city government would need to build official bus stops first…


6 thoughts on “The Eternal Rush Hour

  1. Kim G says:

    It’s also partly Mexico City’s development patterns. Instead of building high-rises, the city chose to spread instead. If Mexico City were built more like Manhattan, it’d be much easier for people to walk or take the metro/metrobus to work.

    What Marcelo Ebrard has done with the EcoBici seems to be a good idea. Mexico City could be near-ideal for bicycle commuting, with its mild climate, and near-flat terrain. Let’s hope that bicycles gain some ground. Every time I’m there I wish I had a bike.

    Motorcycles too are a good solution as you can pack a lot more of them onto roadways than cars.

    But yes, commuting or even just getting very far in DF is hellish. I do my best to stay within the Centro Historico/Roma/Condesa/Cuauhtemoc area as venturing farther is usually heartache.


    Kim G
    San Francisco, CA
    For now


  2. I was going to mention the city planning, but seeing as it’s far too late for that to be a solution…

    But you’re right, of course. Although Mexico City is a special case. Building tall happened before the ’85 quake, I know. But the regular tremors rather put a lot of people off building too high, even back then. Afterwards, anything over 6 storeys, I think, was supposed to be forbidden. That was quickly ignored, huh? But still, accordingly to what I’ve read about that quake, a 40 storey building was safer than a 6 storey building. Resonance, and all that. But anyways, spread, thanks to the quakes and costs of building high, was the preferred option. Along with the sprawl and mess that goes with it.

    There is another factor in the planning. I saw a diagram in a museum once (I don’t remember which one sadly) showing the very dramatic population explosion of Mexico City. Wiki has a decent page of demographics and graphics. It’s not easy for city planners to plan when millions upon millions of people descend so suddenly. Especially when so many of them, in the early days anyway, effectively just grabbed plots of land and started building. Planning permission isn’t something that’s fully understood by the citizenry here, methinks.

    I like the bicycle programs too. The Eco-Bici looks like it will be more successful than the cycle lanes which were laid down – they’re rarely used apparently. The Eco-Bicis are more relevantly located though. I had my doubts when they were first put in place, but they seem to be taking off now. But it’s still a small drop in the ocean. London just started something similar, and I’m looking forward to renting bikes there until I buy my own. They really went for it whole heartedly too – hundreds of bike stations from day one.

    I like the idea of motocycles, but to be honest, I personally wouldn’t do it. I loved my motorbike in the UK, but the roads here, especially where I live, are just a little too iffy. I’ve seen too many dead bodies in the road. Bodies which moments earlier had been on bikes. They don’t always bother with helmets though….

    You wish you had a bike? No need to wish amigo. I have one for sale, ready to be delivered mid February! Your size, too…. 🙂

    Enjoy San Fran!


  3. Add another “challenge”: “Mexico City” is much more than the Federal District, spreading over three states (Mexico, Morelos and Hidalgo), and I don’t know how many separate municipios beyond the 14 delegaciones within the D.F.

    I doubt “legalizing drugs” would pay for much of anything, drug USE not being a particularly major concern of local law enforcement (and a federal, not local matter, to begin with), nor are retail narcotics sales in Mexico in any appreciable quantity that would raise the funds for urban redesign.


    • I knew Mexico City included a small chunk of Hidalgo, but I didn’t know it included any of Morelos.

      Any reduction in costs in fighting the war against drugs would be more than helpful, and I dare say a fair chunk of that money comes from Mexico City tax. You’re probably not wrong as far as tax revenue is concerned though. Although if* the US were to follow suit, the export market is there…. 🙂

      *that’s a very big if.


  4. Golo says:

    I believe there’s also an aspect of social mobility involved: If you live in a low income area, getting a job at the corner convenience store will not get you very far salary-wise. If you live in a middle class neighborhood and have a job offer in Santa Fe chances are you’ll be better of taking it than trying to find something local and so on.
    The long commutes is just one aspect of the depressing situation of the salaried workers in Mexico: Low wages, mediocre jobs and long commutes. I’m pretty sure the people on the video that spend commuting more than 2 hours daily do it for less than 10,000 pesos a month. You don’t like it? No problem, there are a few million carbones out there willing to do it for less.

    (Also traffic cops, as a rule, make traffic worse contradicting the traffic lights and insisting that one should block the intersection while the light is still green. The same lack of planning apparent everywhere else reduced to the absurd, they can not see or don’t care what will obviously happen in 30 seconds when the light changes).


    • That’s a good point. I dare say quite a number of people make long journeys to just get somewhere better. But I do still think there’s a lot of people who choose to commute rather than move any distance away from their families. One of the companies I give classes in is in the deep south of the city. Yet most of my students live far in the north, a couple even in the Estado de Mexico!


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