In Mexico City for our Automotive Leaders Summit - see Features - on March 27 & 28, I decided to put the city’s transit system to the test to find out if the much-vaunted new mobility solutions that are emerging from every carmaker, and many non-carmakers, could be useful in one of the world's most congested cities.
I started out my journey to the Frida Kahlo museum on a bicycle, provided free by the city, if you can leave two forms of ID with a man in a hut on the main street - Reforma - the equivalent of London's Park Lane. Cycling in Mexico City should, in theory, be terrifying but there are cycle lanes everywhere and drivers are surprisingly respectful, possibly due to many of them having started out on bicycles or scooters. I then switched to the Metro which was a revelation, even compared to London, Paris or New York.
With a train arriving in each station every 30-40 seconds and free wifi in clean and fairly quiet carriages with perfectly comfortable seats, many capital cities could learn a lot from Mexico City’s subway system. I then switched to a bus and the main issue with this overcrowded city became apparent; not overcrowding on the buses - there are a lot of them on the road so there is always room on board - but on the roads where the traffic is extraordinarily dense. Their solution? To build roads for buses above the existing carriageways wherever possible, but these are now also used by cars and so are congested.
The final leg of my journey was 4 kilometres and I asked the very polite and helpful bus driver how long we might, he answered in a jocular fashion: solo una hora - just an hour… I got out and walked. My final part of the return journey was made by taxi, a charming cabbie took me 2 kilometres for 20 pesos, or $1. The bus and train journey return fare was 50 cents. And what does this have to do with automotive I hear you ask? Well,two of the themes of the conference were autonomous vehicles and future transportation and Mexico has all the right, and wrong, elements for that goal. An excellent subway system needs almost no improvement, perhaps padded seats… And the congested roads would be revolutionised by autonomous vehicles, all running at steady, fairly low, speeds, keeping tight distances to each other and thus avoiding the ‘concertina’ effect of stop-start traffic. Combine this with the tremendous enthusiasm of the industry, in R&D, production and logistics, and a labour cost that is now lower than that China, and Mexico has a terrific future in the automotive world of tomorrow.
Simon Duval Smith