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Cash for clunkers

10 August 2009

yolobusAmong Mexico City’s unique qualities among North American communities, its dependence on privately run public transportation has a bigger impact than most cities. Although the thinking in city transportation planning since the 1950s was focused on getting cars from point A to B and back again, Mexico City is one of the few North American communities where the majority of commuters do not own a car.

The Metro and trolleys don’t go everywhere people need to get, and even some major corridors (like Reforma) were serviced by the private sector.  It wasn’t a perfect system, but balancing competing needs — for jobs and business contracts for drivers and vehicle owners, commuter needs and public health and safety concerns — has been a balancing act, and changes had to come slowly.

metrobus-mexicoOne solution was a “Cash for Clunkers” program for PUBLIC transit.  This was as much about safety and controlling air pollution as anything, but it had the side-benefit of stimulating Mexican manufacturing.  Stricter and stricter air pollution and safely regulations meant older vehicles no longer passed inspection.  The Federal District used a “carrot and stick” approach.  If  the clunkers were taken off the road, the District gave low interest (or zero interest) loans to owners groups to buy new vehicles, in return for the owners’ accepting the new regulations.  Volkswagen de Mexico worked out a deal with the Capital to provide taxis, which kept demand high enough to justify keeping the old beetle in production here long after it had been discontinued everywhere else.  When, in 2005, advances in the Mexican auto industry meant that four-door cars with better fuel efficiency (and a lot more safety features) were available, and the other auto manufactures realized what a sweetheart deal the City had given VW,  the “bug” was history.  There was a big city “corral” for old public vehicles behind what’s now the Vasconcellos Library in 2005, and it was somewhat sad to see old volkswagens being towed off to their final resting place.  They were cute and funky, but a Nissan’s got more leg room and isn’t nearly as noisy. And cost about the same.

Sure, I sort of found the peseros — or, as I liked to call them, “bread trucks” — an adventure at first, but really, all I wanted from a bus was to get from X to Y.  This is only the latest in the on-going replacement program:

Commuters who use Paseo de la Reforma may notice less traffic and cleaner air this week.

About 370 busses, some as many as 30 years old, that used one of the city’s principal thoroughfares, were replaced yesterday with 173 larger, more fuel-efficient and safer busses.

The hodpodge of about 300 microbuses (often called peseros) and about 70 larger busses, the majority of them in poor condition and long past their useful life, charged passengers between 3 and 4.50 pesos for often crowded, dangerous rides. Those busses will be used for scrap metal or relocated to other routes in the city.

The new busses cost 4.50 pesos for the “plus service” and 5 pesos for the “executive” ride, but passengers can ride free today, said Route 2 President Jeús Padilla. The service operates between 5 a.m. until midnight and there are between 69 and 79 stops on each side of the route at intervals of 300 to 500 meters.

Each bus costs 1.8 million pesos, can seat 37 passengers and is equipped with security cameras, air conditioning and screens to display information.

(From The [Mexico City] News).

A more radical solution is coming for taxis.  Mexico City will soon join London as the only urban communities with their own specially designed taxis.  While the London taxi has changed over the years, it is still just a big car.  The Mexico City “Chapuline” (grasshopper) benefits from being designed in the post automobile era.  Designer Juan Antonio Islas Muñoz (a STUDENT — not an automotive engineer) wasn’t thinking “outside the box”, he and his fellow designers were thinking “inside the car”:

“We didn’t want to make just a cool-looking taxi, but one that would meet people’s needs.”

“Almost no taxi in the world, except for the London Taxi Cab, was ever designed to be a taxi. They’re all domestic cars adapted for that function,” Islas explains.  “Therefore, they get dirty quite quickly, the passengers’ luggage is never in their sight, and tall and handicapped people have problems loading and unloading.  Safety considerations for children or pregnant women don’t even figure in typical cabs. There’s also no security barrier between passenger and driver.”

cabsAnd, oh yeah… be built in Mexico and reduce fuel consumption needs — and the space needed to park the thing.  Shorter than a Ford Festiva, the Chapulin:

“… operates on a hybrid diesel-electric system, so it cuts out street-level exhaust.  What is particularly unique for this hybrid is that the diesel engine acts mainly as an electric generator for the batteries, rather than a traction aid.  This allows us to keep the mechanics very compact.  If you look at some of the renderings, it would appear we forgot about the engine, but no, it’s under the driver’s seat.”

taxi-sketchesAll of which is great, but what about the losses to the Mexican auto manufacturers?

According to El Universal a new Mexican federal government iniative:

“will grant 15,000 mexican pesos [about $1,000] towards the purchase of a new car. The clunker must be 10 years old at minimum. Initial budget will be 500 million pesos, expandable to 1,000 million. The cost of the new car should not exceed 160,000 pesos. Also: The car must be assembled in Mexico [or another NAFTA country] or imported by one of the seven brands that have a car factory in Mexican territory.”

Don’t get the idea though, that you can drive in an old beater,  turn it in, and leave with a new Mexican auto.  The cars have to be Mexican plated and registered, and “chocolates” (as those beaters are called) don’t qualify.  And, yes, there are several decent cars available for under 160,000 pesos.  Not big honkin’ SUVs or something to cart your closest 42 relatives  (there’s always a place for pickup trucks), but something that’ll get you and a few passengers from point A to B.  A little bigger than a Chapuline.

One Comment leave one →
  1. gav permalink
    10 August 2009 8:45 am

    This is a great post. When I think of the DF I automatically think of the various ways to get around the great big city–whether the metro, peseros, or cabs. It’s such an integral slice of the chilangolandia experience. It’s sad to see the VWs go, but they are long past their prime. (It was nearly 15 YEARS(!) ago that I was expressed-kidnapped, beaten, and robbed in one; never thought I’d look back at that nostalgically!)
    I think it was back in 2006 that I noticed the large mega-buses operating on Insurgentes, and I was very skeptical. Perhaps I never wanted the city to change in that way, preferring the sputtering pesero minivans that haphazardly zoomed around town.
    Ah, this post (and the book I’m currently reading, The Savage Detectives) really makes me want to head back to the DF!!

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