Mexico City’s Transit Trifecta

Joel Epstein
9 min readApr 11, 2024


Lomas de la Estancia, seen from Cablebús Línea 2, Mexico City (CDMX).

Over the past few months I have been to a lot of places. And most of that travel as it usually is, was by bus and train. In January I flew to Panamá for what started out as a week-long trip to interesting Panama City and the impressive Panama Canal. One of the world’s greatest public works projects with a fascinating history that marries political intrigue, diplomacy, finance, world trade, public health and naval might, I can’t stop reading about it.

Just after sunrise on Lago Gatún, an artificial lake created to make possible construction of the Panama Canal.

As luck would have it, that week-long taste of Panamá, turned into a mostly overland six week sojourn through Central America and México.

Panamá to El Salvador.

The long dreamed of trip featured travel on almost every imaginable form of bus from Panamá’s diablos rojos to a host of Costa Rican, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Belizian and Mexican second class buses, colectivos, camionetas, microbuses, peceras, combis, micros and busitos.

San Salvador to Chetumal, Quintana Roo, México. It’s not shown on the map, but I actually traveled by boat from Caye Caulker to San Pedro to Chetumal.
Chetumal, Quintana Roo to Oaxaca.
Oaxaca to Mexico City.
A typical diablo rojo, Portobelo, Panamá.

The name for local transit changes as one travels across the region and the quality varies widely from the state-of- the-art Metro in Panama City to the nerve rattling ride in the back of a pickup truck I took in the mountains above Santa Tecla, El Salvador. That trip encountered a funeral that might have been my own given the driver’s penchant for speed barreling down the mountain from El Boquerón (Volcan de San Salvador).

Riding a pickup from El Boquerón to Santa Tecla, El Salvador.

Returning to the U.S., in March and April, I have since ridden Tri Rail, Miami-Dade Transit and the Brickell Loop, part of the electric above-ground one-time gimmick known as the Miami Metromover. So before you laugh, all three are terrific and a bargain as either free (the now relevant Metromover) or reasonably priced (Tri Rail and Miami-Dade Transit). And what a treat to be car-free in Miami, Miami Beach and other parts of traffic choked south Florida! Several family members had urged me to ride the privately built Brightline but this trip my needs were met by the far more economical Tri Rail.

Rounding out the month, I have also ridden Amtrak, Washington Metro buses and trains, Flixbus and of course the MTA back at home in NYC.

So what did I learn from all of these bus and train trips, other than my tiresome mantra that we should all get on the bus and train?

  • Visit Miami and Miami Beach car-free! It will make your visit or life there mucho mas dulce.
  • In addition to being one of the best cities in the world, Mexico City is a terrific public transit city, the winner of the transit trifecta.

Back in New York, North America’s own public transportation leader, I am still jonesing for Mexico City’s (CDMX’s) Movilidad Integrada network of Metro, Metrobús, Cablebús, Trolebús, Tren Ligero and Ecobici. Having ridden them all, it is difficult to get excited about the billions of dollars over budget extension of the 7 train to Hudson Yards, AKA public welfare.

Metrobús, Avenida de los Insurgentes, CDMX. Mexico City’s exceptional bus rapid transit (BRT) system is a model for NYC’s anemic fail known as Select Bus Service (SBS).
Boarding Metrobús at Moctezuma, CDMX.

As in New York, a lot of Metro riders don’t honor the Reservado seating for the elderly and infirm. Also, while there is free wifi on the Metro, it was never actually working when I rode. Drinking fountains in the stations (also not functioning) are a nice addition since my last visit but the climate change-induced drought has meant an existential shortage of water for CDMX as well as large swathes of México. Perhaps that is why the fountains were not working.

Agua para uso humano, Oaxaca.

It is the ubiquity of the Mexico City transit system, the frequency of the trains and BRTs and cable cars, the energy created by its millions of daily riders and the relative quiet of the trains that gets me excited as a transit advocate. The gentle whoosh of the rail cars on their rubber wheels as they move over the tracks. Mostly, the sounds one hears on Mexico City’s trains are of people talking and of the spiel of the blind vendors and others hawking their wares as they move through the train.

A typical rush hour Metro in Mexico City.

Coming from New York where the transit agency is still spending fortunes on vanity indulgences and costly, overengineered construction projects instead of needed service improvements and elevators, CDMX’s focus on function and frequent service is refreshing.

The integrated transit system’s signage can sometimes be better (aside from the excellent low literacy graphics which show illustrations as well as the names of the stops) and since no announcements are made on the Metro I found myself counting the number of stops I needed to travel. Often the trains are so crowded one can’t see out the window to know at which station the train has arrived.

For low literacy riders, CMDX transit created signage with graphic representations of the stops. El Trolebús Elevado, Metro Constitución de 1917, Iztapalapa.

The trains are relatively safe apart from pickpockets and gropers. The existence of women- and children-only entrances and passageways at some stations attest to the breadth of the problem of sexual assault on the system.

Solo mujeres y menores de 12 años.

Guards at most stations prevent fare beating and on all my visits to CDMX, I have only seen one instance of a person jumping the turnstile, though surely there are a lot more.

It is the breath of the integrated transportation network and frequency of service that makes Mexico City’s system so exceptional. During my time there I couldn’t stop thinking of the waits I have experienced for a train at the always disgusting 42nd Street Port Authority station. I want to love the MTA more but with stations like that I have to tell it like it is.

Un Paseo por los libros, in Metro Zócalo. Mexico City is a cultural as well as transit mecca. Take that, Paris, London, Rome and New York.

My six-week adventure across Central America and México, was something I had wanted to do for decades, since before life and work and raising a family intervened. Good things come to those who wait.

Más Chilangos deben viajar en Metro sólo para ver a personas como él. (More Mexico City residents should travel on Metro just to see people like him).

My travel was without any major hitches, apart from a diablo rojo breakdown in northern Panamá and an eternal 12 hour overnight bus from San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas to Oaxaca, México. On the whole, I continue to marvel at the ability to get practically anywhere no matter how remote in Central America and México by bus. Try doing that in North America then call me and we can compare notes.

A checkpoint in San Pablo Huitzo, México where three migrants were taken off the bus.

If you’re scratching your head thinking skeptically of my love for the Mexican megacity in spite of its infamous congestion and pollution, read on. Of course things are not all perfect in Tacolandia but I’ll take that over the transit deserts one finds throughout so much of the U.S.

As if one level of car hell wasn’t enough, how about three? San Miguel Chapultepec, CDMX.

As for my embrace of CDMX with its myriad transportation options as a world class city for public transit, it is true that I have never been to Berlin or Tokyo or Singapore with their renown transit systems. Thank you Germany, Japan and Singapore for your forthcoming all expense paid visits.

Eight pm in Mexico City. Not everyone takes the bus or Metro.

What sings to me about Mexico City is the way in which the system integrates various modes of conveyance. The system isn’t perfect and admittedly, the first, last mile connection to the City’s Movilidad Integrada transit options are uneven (and sometimes bumpy), but they are working on it.

The route for the bumpy, old, diesel bus I took to Iztapalapa.

Metro Constitución de 1917

Fortified by breakfast at Fonda Margarita in Colonia Del Valle, my first full day back in Mexico City I made my way to Iztapalapa and the transportation hub that is my latest source of transit longing. Constitución de 1917 is where one finds not one, not two but three major mass transit investments: the Metro, Cablebús Línea 2 and el Trolebús Elevado. That transit trifecta I keep talking about.

At Metro Constitución de 1917 in Iztapalapa stronger men than me cry with joy seeing the public transportation options.

The economic development impact of transit investments like Cablebús and the Trolebús Elevado on communities like Santa Marta and Lomas de la Estancia (areas on Cablebús Línea 2) previously poorly served by transit, will be felt for decades. Cablebús Línea 2 is also the world’s longest cable car transit line.

The Cablebús model, which Los Angeles hopes to build from Downtown LA to Dodger Stadium, is a terrific, lower capital cost (than subway tunneling) addition to Mexico City’s Movilidad Integrada system. In 2021, I wrote about Cablebús Línea 1 which starts at Metro Indios Verdes. A third Mexico City line still under construction will connect Santa Fe with Metro Constituyentes, Colonia Cuauhtémoc.

El Trolebús Elevado, Metro Constitución de 1917, CDMX.

While we are talking about Movilidad Integrada, I want to give a shoutout to Ecobici which has expanded significantly in recent years and could not be easier to use for those who have a mobile phone and service or access to public wifi. The program run by Lyft feels a lot like Citi Bike.

On Ecobici in a protected bike lane in Roma Sur, CDMX.

Though I didn’t get to meet him this time, on a future trip to Mexico City I hope to interview the head of Mexico City’s transportation system whom I was told requires city bus drivers to ride a bike in the city to experience what it is like to be a bike rider on CDMX’s streets. That sort of experience has to make bus drivers more aware of the risks of inattentive driving when hard to see bike riders are biking nearby. If only cities could mandate this for ordinary drivers as well.

Organic Transportation

As good as public transportation is in Mexico City, not all of the megacity’s transit options are as low carbon as they can be. As in Panamá, with its diablo rojos (old U.S. school buses retired from service and adaptively reused), México and much of Central America feature older diesel buses spewing soot into the environment.

The old diesel workhorse from Del Valle to Metro Constitución de 1917 in Iztapalapa, CDMX.

Given the breadth of the problem of old polluting buses throughout the region, it was refreshing to see the higher use as a planter found for a defunct busito in Copán, Honduras.

A defunct busito in Copán, Honduras now serves as a planter.

Call it greening mass transportation.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

What México and some parts of Central America also don’t do so well is sidewalks.

Where the sidewalk ends.

That’s something I will write about in a future piece.

Yours in transit,


Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space.

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