Transit Innovation: Traffic Decongestant - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Transit Innovation: Traffic Decongestant

Every two weeks, MPC uncovers best practices from around the world and delivers them right to your inbox in Talking Transit. This week, MPC analyzed the impacts of a newly installed bus rapid transit service to help Mexico City combat congestion.

Air pollution is considered one of the most serious and pressing problems in Mexico City. With more than 20 million people living in an area slightly larger than the Chicago region, exhaust from approximately 3.5 million personal vehicles and thousands of buses accounts for 80 percent of the region’s air pollution.  Mexico City is considered one of the five most polluted and congested metropolitan areas in the world.  

The effects of Mexico City’s air quality are devastating. The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine recently studied the effects of air quality on children by testing a sample of 8-year-old students in Mexico City. The study found the students in Mexico were impacted more severely than U.S. children exposed to maternal smoking. Another study found residents of the capital city were less able to detect common odors like coffee and orange juice than those in a nearby town with low air pollution. Although the Mexican government has reduced smog by closing factories, removing old cars from the roads, and modernizing aging buses, car use in Mexico City has doubled in the last seven years.  Reducing traffic in Mexico City is an important priority for improving the city’s overall public health. 

Until recently, approximately 80 percent of Mexico City’s population traveled throughout the city using the extensive subway system, light rail service, and bus network. Still, drivers spent an average of two and a half hours stuck in traffic daily. Along one of the city’s most congested arterials, Insurgentes Avenue, about 250 private buses -- with 150 different owners -- operated alongside the street’s 100 public buses. Coordination among the owners was impossible, and the traffic on Insurgentes was borderline intolerable. 

In 2005, as a key component of the Mexican government’s Air Quality Program and Green Plan, the mayor entered into a public-private partnership to launch the city’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system, known as the Metrobús.  The city invested less than $34 million in infrastructure and buses, while private investors spent approximately $20 million to purchase new, and retrofit existing, buses with modern BRT technology.  The city oversees planning, explores expansion potential, and coordinates services while the private sector – a unified company encompassing many of the old system’s bus operators – manages the system’s operations and maintenance services. The Metrobús runs along the median with prepaid boarding, smart card technology, low floor buses, and designated stations. Moving more than 320,000 passengers per day through the heart of Mexico City, the Metrobús is known as the subway on wheels.  

BRT in Mexico City improved mobility in the corridor by 50 percent and encouraged a 5 percent shift to public transportation from private vehicles. The system has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 47,000 tons every year. The success of BRT in Mexico City has the mayor planning an additional 124 miles, installing nine more BRT corridors, and moving as many as 1.7 million daily passengers making it one of the world’s largest BRT systems.  

Mexico City introduced the potential of an expansive BRT network along one of its most challenging traffic corridors with great success. While the air quality isn’t as terrible here as it is in Mexico City, Chicago doesn’t want to work retroactively to battle its growing congestion problems. Proactive solutions such as BRT systems can provide significant benefits and important contributions to an already built urban environment. 

This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC's bi-weekly e-newsletter. To receive the newsletter, visit


  1. 1. Luis from Chicago on January 20, 2010

    Good article! The first line of the Metrobus system represents one of the best options to deal with public transportation in a significant large Metropolis like Mexico City. As you mentioned, the system is now being expanded to other NINE major arterials in the City whithin 5 years! it is efficient and cheaper than public transporation in Chicago. Based on this , it is worth taking a look at existing CTA strategies to deal with the! it is getting very expensive to use the bus and train in Chi Town!

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