How Crime is Stifling Mexican Public Transport

Sexy accent, fine wine, binge-worthy soap operas, tacos… the list goes on.

There’s so much good that comes out of Mexico that we would spend a whole day listing them. During that discussion, it is very likely that Non-Mexicans might digress trying to mimic the North Americans — we all want to pronounce Spanish words with the swagger that Mexicans do.

The North American country is a beautiful country whose profound beauty gets eclipsed by its dark history with drug lords, that includes violent dealer Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka El Chapo, who was arrested by American authorities in February 2014.

Despite cutting the head off the snake, it is still business as usual, only this time, the drug cartels have regrouped and revised their tactics to deconcentrate power from the hands of a few individuals.

That is not what we are here for today. However, the background is important for what we will be learning about — Public Transport in Mexico.

Crime in Mexican Public Transport

A research report titled Fear of Crime in Public Transport: Research in Mexico City authored by Carlos J. Vilalta paints a worrying picture of the country’s state of mobility safety.

The report states that many Mexico City residents are vulnerable to crime because of how much they rely on the public transport system. It points out that travelling via public transport translates to a considerable risk of criminal victimization.

A bus parked on the roadside in Mexico City. Criminal activity is affecting public transport in Mexico with a substantial chunk of Mexicans posing they don't feel safe when boarding the different modes of transport in the country. {Image Source: Al Jazeera}
A bus parked on the roadside in Mexico City. Criminal activity is affecting public transport in Mexico with a substantial chunk of Mexicans posing they don’t feel safe when boarding the different modes of transport in the country. {Image Source: Al Jazeera}

“Between 2003 and May 2010, theft crimes in minivans increased by 75%. Many public transport users are aware of the risks, both non-violent and violent crimes often make the nightly local news.

This awareness might add to fear of crime among public transport users. In addition, property crimes in Mexico City including theft, robbery, armed robbery, and carjacking have exploded since the last quarter of 2006,”

REPORT: FEAR OF CRIME IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT: RESEARCH IN MEXICO CITY

The numbers might be more.

This is due to Cifra Negra, the term used to describe the difference between actual crimes and those reported.

The paper points out that victims tend not to report crimes because trust in the police and judicial institutions is very low.

The report finds that 35% of Mexico City public transport users either feel “not very safe” or “unsafe” when going to work or school.

To that effect, the city is always going through a constant increase in fortification and video surveillance to counter this problem

The report finds that: Physical Vulnerability, Victimization, Social Vulnerability, Social Networks, and Social Disorder are the biggest challenges the Mexican public transport system is facing.

All these factors combined have a huge negative impact on the quality of life of Mexico City residents.

Criminal Elements in Public Transport

Another research report titled: Planning Public Transport Improvements in Mexico: Analysis of the Influence of Private Bus Operators in the Planning Process authored by Abel Lopez Dodero observes that Mexican public transport also grapples with criminal elements.

The problem is that public transport in Mexico is highly atomized, which means that many single private concessionaires offer services.

In Michoacán, a state in Mexico, criminal groups reign heavily and interfere with public transport provision.

“In the city of Morelia, the capital city of the State of Michoacan, private bus operators pay approximately US$8 per month per unit for the “right to operate” Publicity in units – which is an additional source of income for private bus operators – is also controlled by these criminal groups,”

REPORT: PLANNING PUBLIC TRANSPORT IMPROVEMENTS IN MEXICO: ANALYSIS OF THE INFLUENCE OF PRIVATE BUS OPERATORS IN THE PLANNING PROCESS
Private buses parked at a stand. Criminals interfere heavily with public transport in Michoacan, Mexico. {Image Source: Janine In the World}
Private buses parked at a stand. Criminals interfere heavily with public transport in Michoacan, Mexico. {Image Source: Janine In the World}

“In other cities in the State of Michoacan, criminal groups control the supply of bus service and the planning of routes,”

REPORT: PLANNING PUBLIC TRANSPORT IMPROVEMENTS IN MEXICO: ANALYSIS OF THE INFLUENCE OF PRIVATE BUS OPERATORS IN THE PLANNING PROCESS

The Political Angle

Crime is not the only major problem that the public transport system in Mexico is facing.

The report by Abel Lopez Dodero observes that well-connected public transport operators thwart positive change designed to benefit millions to protect their interests.

In simple plain terms, they are a cartel.

A bus owned by Omibuso de Mexico. The company is one of the few entities with a license to operate routes in the country. {Image Source: Busbud}
A bus owned by Omibuso de Mexico. The company is one of the few entities with a license to operate routes in the country. {Image Source: Busbud}

“Bus provision is offered by a disproportionate number of small private enterprises, single concessionaries, and unregulated providers. Today, many of these entities have gained political power and, often, resist attempts to improve public transportation,”

REPORT: PLANNING PUBLIC TRANSPORT IMPROVEMENTS IN MEXICO: ANALYSIS OF THE INFLUENCE OF PRIVATE BUS OPERATORS IN THE PLANNING PROCESS

The paper notes that the solution explored for overcoming this challenge — the introduction of franchise systems to be operated under strict institutional regulations has been frustrated.

“However, incorporating bus operators into any form of system under franchise system implies major changes in private providers’ business and routines. Franchising implies moving from concession-owner-driver to simple employee or shareholder of the new system.

Franchising also results in having to change routines associated with the operation. Understandably, these changes generate resistance, delaying implementations,”

REPORT: PLANNING PUBLIC TRANSPORT IMPROVEMENTS IN MEXICO: ANALYSIS OF THE INFLUENCE OF PRIVATE BUS OPERATORS IN THE PLANNING PROCESS

Declining Public Transport Revenues

Compounding on the problems already in place is the fact that public transport revenues have been on a downward curve, as captured by the Public Transportation in Mexico – Industry Market Research Report published by research company IBISWorld in 2019.

Train on a track in Mexico. Public transport revenues in Mexico have been declining for the last half-century. {Image Source: Freight Waves}
Train on a track in Mexico. Public transport revenues in Mexico have been declining for the last half-century. {Image Source: Freight Waves}

The paper attributes this to increased use of private cars as measured by motor vehicle registrations.

“Over the five years to 2024, the industry is expected to continue to decline as private automobile use continues to grow,”

IBISWORLD INDUSTRY MARKET RESEARCH REPORT

Outdated

The Mexican public transport system is not where it needs to be.

Given that Mexico City is a business hub where millions go about their economic activities, rapid urbanization, congestion, pollution, and delays in commuting times are a huge problem.

Mexican government officials recognize this and are working with the United Nations Office for Project Services to improve their transport infrastructure as reported by the UN agency.

“The metro has to be modernized. We can no longer continue with one that is 50 years old and has not undergone a major modernization and maintenance process,”

Claudia Sheinbaum, Head of Government, Mexico City as quoted by a UNOPS brief titled Modernizing Transportation in Mexico City

To cure this, the Mexican government is acquiring new trains for the metro, updating the others, and modernizing the signalling and control systems on various metro lines.

The Mexico City Metro. Authorities in the capital are working on modernizing the network. {Image Source: CGTN America}
The Mexico City Metro. Authorities in the capital are working on modernizing the network. {Image Source: CGTN America}

The Mexican government is also lining up two new cable car lines to integrate with the metro network, which will help eradicate unsafe and long commutes.

Moving Around Mexico

Although crime is a major issue in Mexico, the country does not suffer from a lack of essential public transport services.

The most popular modes of transport in the country include buses, metro, planes, and taxis.

Bus Transport

The bus is the most common mode of transport in Mexico.

All cities in the country have at least one bus station, while some have several.

Mexico City, for instance, has four major bus stations with lines that travel to different parts of the country.

The Mexico City Metrobús is a bus rapid transit system that has served Mexico City since line 1 opened on June 19, 2006. The bus is the most extensive means of transport in the Mexican capital. {Image Source: Keith Dannemiller via WBUR}
The Mexico City Metrobús is a bus rapid transit system that has served Mexico City since line 1 opened on June 19, 2006. The bus is the most extensive means of transport in the Mexican capital. {Image Source: Keith Dannemiller via WBUR}

Buses that operate from the official bus stations in cities and major towns offer two classes of travel: first-class and second-class.

First-class buses have exclusive offerings like reclining seats with plenty of legroom, whereas second-class tickets are not built for luxury. However, they are comfortable and clean.

Both first-class and second-class buses are air-conditioned and are fitted with screens to provide their passengers with visual entertainment.

Besides the standard buses that operate from bus stations, many Mexican cities and towns have bus companies offering third-class travel that run their own independent bus stations.

The majority of these third-class buses are usually old and not properly maintained.

Local Buses and Collectivos

Local buses have a specific target market, they offer services in major cities and operate routes to surrounding communities.

They are fast, noisy and very affordable. It is easy to identify where a local bus is headed because the route is usually indicated on the windshield.

To board local buses that are in transit, all one has to do is wave them down.

Collectivos or combis are minibuses that serve the same market as local buses.

A collectivo is a minibus popular for affordable public transport in Mexican cities and towns. {Image Source: Mexico Relocation Guide}
A collectivo is a minibus popular for affordable public transport in Mexican cities and towns. {Image Source: Mexico Relocation Guide}

Their destinations are also written on the windshield.

They are especially popular in southern Mexico in tourist destinations like Chiapas, Oaxaca, and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Data Corner

Mexico City is a beehive of economic activities, and for that reason, too many vehicles on the road lead to traffic congestion. This has prompted tech companies to explore how Big Data can improve public transport in the capital.

As reported by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), ITDP Mexico, with the assistance of telecommunications company AT&T experimented to find out how Big Data could enhance safety and encourage fuel efficiency.

“The project focused on two important issues: safety and fuel efficiency. With a sound experimental framework, ITDP installed a GPS device—to track movements over AT&T’s 4G LTE wireless network—on buses traveling two comparable routes. This gave the research team information about a given bus’ location, rate of acceleration, braking, turning, and fuel consumption,” reads the report.

ITDP REPORT

The organization tracked the fleets for months to establish a baseline for their operation. In the following month, researchers deployed an alert mechanism listed as Fleet A. The alert notified drivers when they had exceeded limits, idled for more than five minutes, braked suddenly, or made rough turns.

Fleet B continued to operate normally the way it did before the project.

“Researchers found two interesting results. First, they saw a decline in maximum speeds. The frequency with which buses exceeded the legal speed limit was also significantly reduced. The second result was improved fuel efficiency. By reducing excessive engine idling and decreasing speed, buses consumed less diesel. On average, Fleet A buses were 3% more fuel-efficient, saving around 1.6 liters of diesel per day,”

ITDP REPORT

The paper notes that Big Data when applied alongside other measures has the potential of significantly impacting a company’s bottom line.

The project concluded that a simple monitoring device could also be the difference between efficiency and wastage or safety and accidents.

Air Transport

Nearly all Mexican cities have their own airport.

Some 50 airports across the country also provide regional and international flights.

The most common entry points for international flights are Mexico City and Cancun. Other cities like Guadalajara, Monterrey, Jose del Cabo, and San Jose also receive many international flights.

The largest airlines in Mexico include Volaris, VivaAerobus, Aeromexico Connect, and Interjet.

An Aeromexico plane in the skies. The largest airlines in Mexico include Volaris, VivaAerobus, Aeromexico Connect, and Interjet. {Image Source: MEXICONOW}
An Aeromexico plane in the skies. The largest airlines in Mexico include Volaris, VivaAerobus, Aeromexico Connect, and Interjet. {Image Source: MEXICONOW}

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates the aviation sector contributes $37.4 billion to Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The international body also projects that the sector has created 1.4 million jobs for Mexicans directly or indirectly, with half of these jobs coming from tourism.

Data Corner

According to an insight paper dubbed Big Data in Aerospace published by Thales, airlines are now incorporating Big Data to enhance safety.

Predictive Analytics and Big Data in aviation help airlines anticipate wear and tear on mechanical and, to a lesser degree- electronic parts.

“The processing of this data offers new perspectives in terms of optimizing maintenance costs. With the growth and renewal of air fleets, the MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) market can also rely on data to better manage its supply chain. In addition, aircraft maintenance centres will be able to offer better customer service by ensuring the availability of the necessary parts in real-time,’

THALES INSIGHT PAPER

Airlines are also employing Big Data analytics to cut down on their carbon footprint.

“As for the environmental footprint in aviation, flight paths can be optimized by using data to modify routes in real-time to accommodate storms and other disruptions. In addition to substantial fuel savings, it is now possible, thanks to data, to reduce the environmental impact: civil aviation generates 2% of global CO² emissions, particularly because of the time spent over airports while waiting for permission to land,”  

THALES INSIGHT PAPER

Taxis

Taxi transport is fairly affordable in Mexico compared to rates charged in Canada and the United States.

However, using taxis is considerably more expensive than using mass transit systems like the metro in Mexico City or local buses.

Traditional taxis are either metered, not metered, charged per zone, or charged per kilometre basis.

Taxi in Mexico City. Using taxis is more expensive than taking the metro. {Image Source: Welcome Pickups}
Taxi in Mexico City. Using taxis is more expensive than taking the metro. {Image Source: Welcome Pickups}

Security is a major issue. Passengers are advised not to hail taxis off the street in Mexico City after dark if they are unfamiliar with the city and don’t speak Spanish.

Foreigners and tourists are advised to ask their hotel’s front desk to book a cab for them.

When boarding a traditional taxi, passengers are advised to check for the driver’s credentials. They are normally pinned on laminated paper displayed on the windscreen.

Taxis with tinted windows are considered a red flag.

Digital Apps

Uber and Cabify are the digital taxi apps with the largest market share and presence in Mexico.

For them, getting here was a hassle.

The companies fought tooth and nail to acquire the licenses to operate in the country.

Until 2015, traditional taxi operators had protested the entry of these players into the market, arguing they had to pay different kinds of regulatory fees that the app cab companies were not subjected to.

In the beginning, Uber and Cabify drivers were harassed during police operations for operating without a permit.

They emerged victorious at the end due to widespread support from Mexicans and opinion makers who observed that the main reason why they were beating the traditional cabs to business is that they are safe and efficient.

Data Corner

A European Union (EU) Commission report dubbed Big Data Implementation Context in Transport authored by Ortelio, a UK-based tech firm, observes that GPS and taxi routes can be used to model city traffic hot spots instead of using expensive and exhaustive sensors to come up with reliable city traffic models.

“In this use case, AI methods and friendly visualization tools are being used to show where the traffic hot spots in near real-time are,”

REPORT: BIG DATA IMPLEMENTATION CONTEXT IN TRANSPORT

The Mexico City Metro

Mexico City is home to a comprehensive metro system that covers the entire capital.

The Mexico City Metro is the ninth busiest mass transit system in the world as per Intelligent Transport. It is also the second-largest in North America.

The Mexico City Metro is the eighth busiest rapid transit system in the world and the second-largest in North America. {Image Source: Urban Transport Magazine}
The Mexico City Metro is the eighth busiest rapid transit system in the world and the second-largest in North America. {Image Source: Urban Transport Magazine}

It serves 41 neighbourhood municipalities and 16 boroughs in the city.

The network stretches 225 kilometres and includes 12 lines complete with 195 intermediate stations.

Boarding the metro is better than taking a bus, especially during peak hours because of Mexico City’s traffic congestion.

To travel via the metro, passengers can buy tickets or swipe their Integrated Mobility Cards, which are reloadable and acquired for $15.

As reported by Railway Technology, the metro’s average daily ridership is 3.86 million passengers. In 2010, the system ferried approximately 1.41 billion passengers.

Sistema de Transporte Colectivo (STC) is the authority responsible for running the Mexico City Metro.

Data Corner

A report titled Station and Train Surface Microbiomes of Mexico City’s Metro (Subway/Underground) authored by Apolinar Misael Hernández, Daniela Vargas-Robles, Luis David Alcaraz, et al.  observes the Mexico Metro’s annual 1.6 billion ridership makes this particular mode of transport a main hub of microbe-host-environment interactions

“Large crowds promote the exchange of microbes between humans,”

REPORT: STATION AND TRAIN SURFACE MICROBIOMES OF MEXICO CITY’S METRO

The report explored the likelihood of commuters contracting COVID-19 when traveling via the metro.

“During this mass movement, passengers breathe the same air and touch the same surfaces, promoting a large-scale interchange of human and environmental microbiota,”

REPORT: STATION AND TRAIN SURFACE MICROBIOMES OF MEXICO CITY’S METRO

In such a scenario, Occupancy Data combined with proper sanitization of trains helps guarantee safety for passengers.

Occupancy Data informs passengers of congestion levels which helps them avoid a particular route at a certain time when congestion levels are high. It also alerts them when occupancy is low enough to meet social distancing regulations.

Laugh Best

Video surveillance is helping Mexican authorities enhance safety in public transport.

Surveilling buses, trains, the metro, taxis, and other forms of transport yields a lot of data that has to be sifted, vetted, and analyzed in order to be considered useful.

Surveillance has made it possible to remotely monitor the safety of passengers using CCTV systems installed onboard public transport means. Such proactiveness has also allowed drivers to communicate with the control centres which will prove useful in the event of an emergency.

There’s still a long way to go but this is good progress.

As technology advances and applications of data become even more sophisticated then crime rates will fall even lower.

Mexico might laugh last but it will certainly laugh best.

Thanks to tech.

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