By: Joel Epstein
Last May, when an elevated portion of the Mexico City (CDMX) Metro collapsed killing 26 people and injuring dozens more, many transportation scholars wrote off Mexico City as a place unable to safely provide transit to its 20 million residents. But like a fénix, the largest city in the Americas has again demonstrated why it is a leader in mass transportation. Cablebús, which takes its cues from Metrocable in Medellín, Caracas and Ecatepec (CDMX), significantly expands Mexico City’s network of cable car public transportation. For this urban transit writer, Cablebús is a triumph of integrated transportation excellence.
Though cable car transit is not yet a commonly used form of mass transport globally, these systems are growing in popularity because they can be constructed at relatively low cost, are energy efficient and can be built in steep or densely populated areas where conditions would otherwise preclude metro rail or bus rapid transit (BRT) construction.
The three-line addition to Mexico’s Movilidad Integrada CDMX (integrated mobility) transportation network includes Line 1 in the north, Line 2 in Iztapalapa in the east and Line 3 which will run from Magdalena Contreras to Tlalpan in the southeast. Line 2 which is the longest public cable car line in the world, is in two parts and requires riders to change gondolas to continue along the line. In total, Line 2 runs 10.55 kilometers or 6.56 miles. Construction on Line 3 is expected to start in 2022.
On a recent trip to Mexico City, I rode the recently opened cablebús back and forth from Indios Verdes, a pretty, historic park in a part of the city I had not previously visited.
On a cool, clear Sunday, several of the other riders in the gondolas were also riding for the first time. While some were fearful of the ride which hovers a few dozen meters above the ground, everyone I spoke with uniformly welcomed the new mode of mass transit as a needed, faster and safe way to get around communities that have long been underserved by Mexico City’s multimodal transportation system. Safety on transit, especially for women, is a concern both pre- and post-pandemic. The Cablebús gondolas which comfortably seat 10 passengers each (six thanks to covid) each operate from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. Short headways between the gondolas mean you never have to wait long for a seat.
While no one would confuse Cablebús with the cable cars that shuttle wealthy skiers to the slopes at Saint Moritz, if you squint and drink enough pulque beforehand you may be able to imagine Mexico City as it was when it was known by its Aztec name, Tenochtitlán.
Line 1 which opened in July, runs 9.2 kilometers (5.7 miles) from near the Indios Verdes metro station to Campos Revolución, where the line splits into one leg toward Cuautepec and the other toward Tlalpexco in the Cerro del Chiquihuite. Cablebús riders at Indios Verdes are also served by a Metrobús BRT line that runs along Avenida Insurgentes to Monumento al Caminero in the south. With an estimated 46.7 million passenger boardings annually, Indios Verdes is one of the busiest stations in the Mexico City Metro system.
The Indios Verdes Cablebús station is also located close to El Acueducto de Guadalupe, another important public infrastructure project. El Acueducto is one of many colonial-era stone aqueducts built to bring fresh water into the city. The aqueduct was completed in 1751.
Riding Cablebús gave me a severe bout of that transit envy I often experience when riding public transportation in the Americas south of Tejas. Why is that? What makes building integrated transit systems in the so-called land of the free so complicated? Can you spell “fake news” and NIMBYism?
The eternal optimist, I hope that my second home, Los Angeles, is able to successfully build its own cablebús to ferry fans to Dodger Stadium to watch the winning team in hard to access Chavez Ravine.
A ride on Cablebús costs 7 pesos (35 cents U.S.) using the integrated mobility card.
The lines are constantly monitored to detect high wind gusts, thunderstorms and earthquakes.
Now if only Mexico’s neighbor to the north can get its act together and pass an infrastructure bill.
Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.
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